Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati is visiting Damascus on his first trip abroad since he was appointed.

By Kim Ghattas – Wednesday, 4 May, 2005
BBC News, Beirut

The visit comes a week after the official completion of Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon, ending a 29-year-long military presence.

Mr Mikati, a moderate pro-Syrian legislator, was appointed after weeks of political stalemate following the assassination of ex-PM Rafik Hariri.

His death was blamed by many on Damascus, which denied the accusations.

Relations between Syria and Lebanon have been tense, and anti-Syrian sentiments have run high in Beirut.

So there has been some criticism about Mr Mikati’s choice of destination for his first trip abroad.

Some Lebanese feel it shows little has changed in the nature of relations between Lebanon’s leaders and their long-time political masters in Damascus.

But Mr Mikati says he aims to build healthier, more balanced relations with Syria and he has compared his visit to Damascus with the first trip abroad of Ukraine’s President, Viktor Yushchenko.

The Ukrainian leader went to Moscow, which had long held sway over Ukraine’s politics.

Like Russia and Ukraine, Syria and Lebanon have historical ties, but also important economic links.

Mr Mikati will meet with his Syrian counterpart Naji al-Otari and with his close friend, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Lebanese politician and millionaire businessman has said he will use his friendships to the benefit of his country.

The Lebanese will be watching the tone and outcome of the meetings very closely.