updated 7/12/2008 7:22:34 PM ET 2008-07-12T23:22:34

France's president affirmed Saturday that Syria and Lebanon will open embassies in each other's countries. However, Syria's leader was more cautious.

Syria and Lebanon have not had full-fledged embassies in each other's countries since Lebanon became independent in 1943 and Syria in 1945.

Syrian President Bashar Assad said last month that establishing diplomatic ties with Lebanon would be possible if a national unity Cabinet were formed in Beirut.

Such a government, including members of Syria's ally Hezbollah, was formed Friday after weeks of haggling.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with Assad and with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, who said he wanted an exchange of ambassadors with Syria.

At a joint news conference later, Sarkozy affirmed that the establishment of embassies in Beirut and Damascus was in the works.

"It's historic. ... Naturally, there are a certain number of legal questions to be resolved on the Syrian side ... that explain delays on the road to realization," Sarkozy said. He did not suggest a time frame.

However, Assad seemed a bit more reticent on how quickly the plan might advance. He said he and the Lebanese president discussed the issue but still need to define the steps to take.

Normalizing relations
The Lebanese president arrived at the presidential Elysee Palace with an optimistic tone.

"We want an exchange of ambassadors and diplomatic relations with Syria," he said before a separate meeting with Sarkozy. He told reporters not to speak of normalizing ties between Lebanon and Syria because "they are completely normal."

"I am very satisfied with relations between the two countries," Suleiman said.

Sarkozy, who wants to create a consequential role for Europe, and France, in the process toward Middle East peace, said he would visit Damascus in September but did not set a date.

The leaders all met on the eve of a summit bringing together heads of state or government from 43 nations in Europe and around the Mediterranean rim. Sarkozy sees the initiative as a way of seeding peace in an often hostile region.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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