Syrian, Lebanese Leaders Open Talks

(AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi)
After a marathon meeting Saturday, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri agreed to close the chapter of icy relations between Damascus and the broad political alliance that rose to power in 2005.

(Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, welcomes Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri at Tishrin presidential palace in Damascus Saturday.)

"Assad and Hariri discussed ways for overcoming the negative impacts that affected relations. Both underlined the need for opening new horizons to enhance bilateral cooperation in all fields," according to an official statement by the Syrian palace.

The statement gave no further details, but Assad's political and media advisor Buthaina Shaaban said today's meeting — the first between the two in five years — lasted for three hours, and that a second meeting will be held between the two leaders Sunday.

"Hariri will stay overnight in his home (Damascus) and I would like to say that the atmosphere of today's set of talks was frank, positive and friendly where ice was broken between the two sides," she told reporters.

"Future visits by Lebanese officials to Syria will follow in order to activate the relations between the two countries as past dark memories have been cleared," she said, adding that the will of Assad and Hariri in building positive relations would keep the process of reconciliation on the right track.

Hariri was met upon arrival at Damascus airport by Syria's minister for presidential affairs, Mansour Azzam, and the Lebanese Ambassador to Damascus Michel al-Khoury — Beirut's first-ever envoy to the Syrian capital in six decades.

Assad gave Hariri a warm welcome as he arrived at the capital's Tishrin palace, where the two young leaders shook hands and embraced before going into one-on-one talks ahead of an official dinner.

The visit is Hariri's first since the massive bombing on the Beirut seafront that killed his billionaire father and five-time former premier as well as 22 other people nearly five years ago.

The 39-year-old Saad Hariri and his allies have in the past pointed an accusing finger at Syria and also blamed Damascus for a string of political killings in Lebanon.

Damascus has denied any involvement but faced with mounting pressure it withdrew its troops from Lebanon in April 2005, two months after the murder, ending 29 years of military and political presence.

The visit comes more than a month after the younger Hariri reached a political compromise to form a new government with the country's opposition, led by Hezbollah, the Shiite political and militant group backed by Iran and Syria. Damascus is widely believed to facilitate the compromise.

Hariri made the diplomatic rounds in the region before stopping off in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Thursday to take part in international climate talks.

The prime minister was scheduled to come to Damascus last week but the visit was postponed after the death of Assad's younger brother, Majd, of "long illness."

Saturday's trip, which comes a day after Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman held talks with his Syrian counterpart, was made easier by warming ties between Syria and Saudi Arabia, which back Hariri. Assad hosted Saudi King Abdullah recently during a rare state visit.

Last month, Hariri said he was interested in forging relations with Syria based on "clarity and honesty."

"The government wants to raise brotherly ties between Lebanon and Syria to a level in line with the two countries' historical ties and mutual interest," he said before his government received a vote of confidence in parliament.

By CBS News' George Baghdadi reporting from Damascus