Daily Star
On Thursday, the presidents of Lebanon and Syria sat down for a quick mini-summit to evaluate bilateral relations in the recent past and coordinate for the future. With all due respect to the importance of this meeting, many are closely monitoring the likelihood of another such Lebanese-Syrian high-level political event, namely a visit by Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Damascus. 


President Michel Sleiman can certainly be credited with moving the relationship with Lebanon’s neighbor to a place where such a visit is even conceivable. But all eyes are now on Hariri, who in the past has expressed his belief that the Syrian regime was involved in the assassination of his father. All eyes are also on Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has heard repeated accusations to this effect. 


Despite all of this, it’s now inevitable for such a visit to take place. Hariri is someone who follows the guidelines that his father set down: Lebanon is bigger than any one of its citizens, who include the person who said this, as well as his son. 


We shouldn’t forget the context of Saad Hariri as prime minister in November 2009: he spent the last four-plus months in purgatory, inviting the ridicule of many people as he struggled to cobble together a workable government. He remained steadfast in his quest to become prime minister, and must recognize that it falls to him to fix Lebanon’s relationship with Syria. 



On the other side of the equation, will Hariri meet with responsiveness  if he makes the journey? All eyes will also be on the Syrians, to evaluate their reaction. After all, the Syrian regime looks condescendingly at the Lebanese political class, seeing it as unruly and lacking in patriotism.


It will undoubtedly be an uphill struggle for Lebanon to forge a satisfactory relationship of equality with Damascus, but Hariri could ensure that many of the potential bumps are removed ahead of time. A visit by Hariri to Damascus is a huge responsibility, requiring Hariri to show the kind of patience that he has in recent months. 


The visit, if it takes place, will be heavy on atmospherics; we could debate the actual agenda of the visit, but there’s not much point in doing this before both sides drop their suspicion of, and animosity toward the other. 


While Hariri must have the right attitude to succeed, Assad should also review the past, in order to get in the right mindset. He should remember what his country’s ties with Turkey were like before the coming of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gradually warmed to Damascus and its young president. Syrian-Turkish relations used to be a minefield; now they’re about cooperation. Perhaps Lebanese-Syrian relations can take this path, if the statesmen step up to the plate and deliver.