BEIRUT: German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters on Sunday after meeting newly elected President Michel Suleiman that he saw "signs of hope" in Lebanon.
"The Doha agreement is a very important first step to end the crisis," Steinmeier said, referring to the May 21 accord between rival Lebanese factions that ended a 18-month political crisis that had turned deadly.
"The election of a president and the formation of a government are signs of hope," he said, emphasizing that the deal reached in Qatar says that force and weapons should not be used to resolve conflict.
Lebanon's long-running political standoff sparked sectarian clashes last month that left at least 65 people dead. Until Suleiman's election a week ago, the country had been without a head of state since November.
Also on Sunday, Israel freed and then deported to Lebanon Nassim Nisr, convicted by Israel of spying for Hizbullah, and the group handed over what it said were the remains of Israeli soldiers killed in Israel's 34-day war on Lebanon in 2006.
"I hope this is a step in the direction of a prisoner exchange," Steinmeier told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Fouad Siniora later on Sunday.
"I am happy that preliminary steps were taken in that direction and hope that this creates a positive dynamic, building mutual trust. Quick progress will be in the interest of the victims and concerned parties," he said.
Germany is acting as mediator in negotiations between Hizbullah and Israel on a prisoner exchange.
Beirut is the minister's first stop on a Middle East tour that will also take in Occupied Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Steinmeier said it was "encouraging" that Suleiman's inaugural speech supported establishing the international court to try those behind the assassinations of former Premier Rafik Hariri.
Syria maintained a military presence in Lebanon for almost three decades until it was forced to withdraw by the outcry over Hariri's 2005 assassination, which was widely blamed on Damascus. Syria strongly denies any involvement.
Steinmeier underlined that Suleiman's inaugural speech "spoke of a new beginning in relations with Syria."
"I hope there will be a normalization of relations and that later there will be an exchange of ambassadors and that Syria treats Lebanon as a sovereign country," Steinmeier said.
Syria and Lebanon have no diplomatic representation.
Germany is a former commander and current member of the UN naval force patrolling Lebanese waters to keep the peace with Israel. - AFPMonday, June 02, 2008 By Agence France Presse (AFP)