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Lebanon and Syria move to thaw relations

Syrian President Bashar Assad greets Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (left) on his arrival in Damascus.
Syrian President Bashar Assad greets Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (left) on his arrival in Damascus.
  • NEW: Lebanese leader: "We are betting on a better future for both countries and peoples"
  • Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria
  • Relations between neighboring Arab nations collapsed after 2005 assassination of Hariri's father
  • Lebanon
  • Syria
  • Saad Hariri

Beirut, Lebanon (CNN) -- The leaders of Lebanon and Syria vowed to improve cooperation between their two countries Sunday, tying up a meeting aimed at thawing frozen relations.

"We want to open new horizons between the two states," Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said at a news conference at the end of the two-day meeting, which happened in Damascus, Syria.

"We had good and excellent discussions based on mutual clarity and honesty," he added. "We are betting on a better future for both countries and peoples, in economy, trade as well as all other levels."

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was not at the news conference. Official Syrian news agency SANA reported that both al-Assad and Hariri "saw the visit as a starting point to restore cooperation between the governments of Syria and Lebanon."

"Both sides agreed that the institutions and ministries in both countries directly coordinate and communicate to remove all obstacles to the cooperation on all levels," SANA reported.

Hariri has previously blamed Syria for the 2005 assassination of his father, Rafik Hariri, a former Lebanese leader who was a prominent figure opposing Syria's continuing presence inside Lebanon.

A United Nations investigation found indications of Syrian involvement, but Syria denies responsibility. A U.N.-backed tribunal has been created to investigate the killing.

The two leaders did not discuss that issue or the assassinations of other anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon, Hariri said Sunday. They also did not discuss requests by a Syrian court to question Lebanese officials.

Asked whether any guarantees were exchanged regarding the Lebanese-Syrian relationship, Hariri responded, "I don't want to go into details." He added that the meeting proves "a relationship is being built in both countries' interest and in the benefit of future openness."

A popular uprising after the elder Hariri's killing in 2005 helped lead to the withdrawal of Syrian forces after almost 30 years of military and political domination of Lebanon.

Under international pressure, Syria opened an embassy in Beirut almost a year ago, and a Lebanese ambassador arrived in Damascus a short while later. It was the first time the two foes established diplomatic ties since their independence more than six decades ago.

The United States, which also accused Syria of involvement in Rafik Hariri's assassination, withdrew its ambassador four years ago. President Obama decided to make an effort toward reconciliation and announced earlier this year that he was returning a U.S. diplomat to Damascus.