New Lebanese President calls for renewal of ties with Syria
Suleiman: Weapons should only be directed 'toward the enemy;' Lebanon elects army chief as Pres.
Newly elected Lebanese President Michel Suleiman on Sunday called for the establishment of diplomatic ties with Syria, speaking at his swearing-in ceremony.
"We look strongly to brotherly ties between Lebanon and Syria in the context of mutual respect of the sovereignty and borders of each country and diplomatic ties which will bring good for both of them," Suleiman told the Lebanese parliament.
Syria is currently under suspicion of the 2005 murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Following the assassination, Syria withdrew large numbers of troops from its western neighbor.
Gen. Suleiman, the Lebanese army's former chief of staff, was elected earlier Sunday in a long-delayed vote that was a key step toward restoring political stability.
The new president stated at the inauguration ceremony that, "Our weapons should only be directed towards the enemy," hinting at recent internal violence that has swept Lebanon. It was also perhaps a reference to the conflict between the Lebanese Shi'ite guerilla group Hezbollah and Israel.
In another likely reference to Israel, Suleiman said: "Our weapons should only be directed towards the enemy." Israel invaded its northern neighbor in the 2006 Second Lebabon War after Hezbollah guerillas kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.
Celebratory gunfire and occasional explosions reverberated across the capital Beirut as news of Suleiman's election was announced.
In the general's hometown of Aamchit on the Mediterranean coast north of Beirut, hundreds of people broke out in cheers and dancing in the main square as they watched the vote on a giant screen.
The Hezbollah-led opposition and Western-backed government agreed last week in Qatar to elect Suleiman as part of their deal to end an 18-month political crisis. The stalemate erupted into violence earlier this month, bringing the country to the brink of another civil war.
The Doha deal which allowed the election of Suleiman as a compromise candidate between the Leba was widely seen as a setback for Washington and its allies, which had pressed for Hezbollah to be disarmed.
However, U.S. President George W. Bush, congratulating Suleiman on his election, said in a statement: "I am hopeful that the Doha Agreement ... will usher in an era of political reconciliation to the benefit of all Lebanese."
Bush said he was confident that Lebanon had chosen a leader who would uphold the country's international obligations under UN resolutions that call for Hezbollah to be disarmed.
The presidential vote had been postponed 19 times since November when the last president, Emile Lahoud, left office.
Suleiman, a compromise candidate, ran unopposed. He won 118 votes of the 127 living members of the legislature, according to parliament speaker Nabih Berri.
There were six blank ballots. Two legislators voted for one-time presidential hopefuls and one was in the name Rafik Hariri and the martyred legislators - a reference to the slain former prime minister and five other lawmakers killed in bombings in the last three years.