Dancing With Damascus

Just four months after imposing economic sanctions on Syria, the US now plans tight coordination with Syrian troops along a 350-mile border with Iraq to help keep out foreign terrorists.

And adding to that puzzling contradiction of US interests: Last weekend's agreement for border patrols comes only days after the US, along with France, was able to have the UN Security Council demand an end to "outside influence" in Lebanon. That resolution was clearly aimed at trying to prevent Syria, which has kept some 20,000 troops in Lebanon for a quarter century, from forcing a change in Lebanon's Constitution that would keep a Damascus-friendly president in power for three more years. Syria simply defied the Council and did it anyway.

That defiance has hurt Syria's ties with many Arab nations, which also want it to end its occupation of tiny Lebanon. But its president, Bashar al-Assad, may be in no position to comply with the international community: Too many Syrian generals have economic ties in Lebanon. Mr. Assad, who took over from his late father only four years ago, may be too politically weak to call all the shots.

So instead, Syria is appearing to cooperate along the Iraqi border, hoping for less pressure on the Lebanon issue. It could also seek to dampen other US concerns, such as Syria's sheltering of Palestinian militants, along with other issues that concern Israel.

Careful US engagement with Syria on many fronts might produce better results than outright confrontation, although the sanctions should stay for now. But results must be tangible. Otherwise the US won't be able to balance its often conflicting interests in the Middle East.

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