BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) – Lebanon named an ambassador to Syria Saturday in another step toward normalizing relations after the neighboring countries agreed earlier this year to establish diplomatic ties for the first time since they gained independence from France in the 1940s.
Information Minister Tarek Mitri made the announcement after the Cabinet met to approve the nominee. He told reporters the government would not disclose the ambassador’s name until Syria approves the choice.
Lebanese TV stations, however, reported that the position will go to Michel Khoury, currently Lebanon’s ambassador to Cyprus.
Mitri said Syria has not yet informed the Lebanese government of its choice for ambassador to Beirut. There was no immediate comment from Syria on the Lebanese decision.
Relations between the long-feuding neighbors reached a turning point in August when the two agreed to establish ties and demarcate their contentious border. The agreement marked a final break in Syria’s longtime dominance over its smaller neighbor.
Relations between the two Arab nations have been lopsided in Syria’s favor since the 1970s, when Syria sent its army into Lebanon, which was engulfed in civil war.
Syria maintained control there for nearly 30 years. Its hold began to unravel after former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a 2005 car bombing that many Lebanese blame on Syria, a charge Syria denies.
After Hariri’s assassination, Syria caved to U.S.-led international pressure and withdrew its troops from Lebanon.
Lebanon’s Western-backed parliamentary majority demanded that Syria go a step further and establish diplomatic relations, asserting that the lack of official ties reflected Syria’s refusal to recognize Lebanese sovereignty.
The foreign ministries of both countries have said embassies would be set up in Damascus and Beirut before the end of the year, but it is not clear whether that goal will be met.
Last month, Lebanon and Syria agreed to work together to combat terrorism and boost security along their shared borders.
Syria has deployed troops along Lebanon’s northern border in recent weeks after its government said militants in northern Lebanon posed a security threat.