Hariri: Talks With Assad Were Excellent and Frank

Report: Hariri asks Assad to join forces against Israel; Syria, Lebanon leaders meet in bid to end feud.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri wound up Sunday a landmark visit to Damascus and talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad to open a new phase to improve ties between the two countries based on openness and transparency.

Hariri, who has blamed Syria for the assassination of his father in 2005, said he hoped that strategic ties with Syria could help boost joint interests.

"I saw all positive signals from President Assad in all issues and we agreed on opening a new phase in our relations," Hariri told a press conference at the Lebanese embassy in Damascus.

"The talks were excellent and frank," he said.

"It all depends on the future....We want to build a future that serves the interests of the two countries," Hariri said.

"President Assad stressed during our talks that the relations between Syria and Lebanon should be based on transparency and honesty," he added.

Hariri described his visit which began Saturday, as "historic."

According to Assad's political adviser Buthenia Shaaban the meetings were "very frank and constructive."

Syria opened an embassy in Beirut in 2008, and a Lebanese ambassador arrived in Damascus soon after, in the first diplomatic ties between the two states since independence six decades ago.

Earlier, a Syrian source who requested anonymity said the "two leaders held a two-hour meeting and decided to build a new phase in relations between the two countries."

Hariri's visit to Syria ends nearly five years of animosity with Damascus. Relations between Saad Hariri and Syria have been tense since 2005, when he accused Damascus of plotting the murder of his father Rafik Hariri. Damascus has consistently denied involvement.

Syria was Lebanon's powerbroker until 2005, when it came under pressure from the international community to end its 30-military presence in Lebanon following the February 2005 assassination. Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon in April 2005.

Sources told the daily Lebanese newspaper An Nahar that Lebanon's fundamental demands were met before Hariri's visit to Damascus.

They included the recognition of Lebanon's sovereignty by opening embassies in the two countries and keeping the Hariri assassination issue excluded from overall relations between Lebanon and Syria.

The sources added that there are still pending issues such as demarcation of the border, finding a solution to Palestinian arms outside refugee camps and the issue of Lebanese missing in Syria.

On Saturday, Assad gave Hariri a warm welcome at the capital's Tishrin palace. The Syrian leader broke with the usual protocol by inviting Hariri to stay at the Tishrin guest palace which is normally reserved for visiting monarchs and heads of state.

Hariri told Assad on Saturday that he sought to better defend Lebanon against Israel, the Syrian news agency Champress reported.

During a meeting in Damascus, Hariri also accused Israel of violating and denying Arab rights, according to the agency.

For his part, Assad was quoted as telling Hariri that Syria is keen on maintaining "the best" relations with Lebanon to guarantee the common interests of the Lebanese and Syrian people: "Syria will make efforts to serve unity in Lebanon and the country's security and stability."

Meanwhile in Beirut, the leader of the Lebanese Shiite movement, Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, described Hariri's visit to Damascus as "a positive step that promotes a calm and relaxing climate in Lebanon."

Members of the anti-Syrian Christian camp in parliament also were positive about Hariri's visit to Damascus.

"We believe that we can't permanently stay in enmity with the Syrians. We have called always for state relations with Syria," Elie Marouni, a member of the Christian Phalange Party said.