Lebanese new gov’t expects normalization with Syria after years of coldness: analysts

Lebanon’s new government may be able to normalize relations with Syria after years of coldness, analysts say.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri had been reluctant to establish direct ties with the Syrian authorities during his tenure, saying he would never visit Syria or meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad under any circumstances.

Hariri’s tough stance toward Syria is largely colored by his suspicion of the Syrian government being behind the assassination of his father late Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005.

However, Lebanese experts have been trying to push the government to normalize ties with Syria in the interest of Lebanon’s economy, especially after Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel Karim Ali recently called on Lebanese top officials to visit his country.

“There is a great possibility for Lebanon to normalize ties with Syria today without worrying about the reaction of Arabs because the stance of Gulf countries toward Syria has improved lately,” Adnan Bourji, director of the Lebanese National Center for Studies, told Xinhua.

Gulf countries, which have been in the past under great pressure from Washington to avoid dealing with Syria, are among the first financial supporters of Lebanon, Bourji explained.

But “Arabs are aware that the United States does not have the same military power as in 2003. We can see the U.S. itself is trying to withdraw gradually from different Arab countries such as Iraq,” he said.

Rafic Nasrallah, director of the Lebanese International Center for Media and Research, agrees that the current cabinet has a great opportunity to restore normal relations with Syria, at least on the ministerial level.

“More than one minister will visit Syria to discuss the possibility of exporting through Syria and removing the fees for trucks that pass through Syria to export Lebanese products to other countries,” Nasrallah said.

Lebanese Agriculture Minister Abbas Mortada is among the newly appointed ministers who have announced plans to visit Syria soon.

Nasrallah, however, ruled out a visit by Prime Minister Hassan Diab as it may be seen by the United States as a challenge.

It is also difficult for President Michel Aoun to make such a visit for the time being in order not to affect Lebanon’s chances of gaining international and Arab support, according to Mohannad Hajj Ali, a member of the Carnegie Middle East Center.