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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 September 2006, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
Testing times for US-Syria relations
By Jonathan Marcus
Diplomatic correspondent, BBC News

Burned-out vehicle in front of the US embassy in Damascus, from al-Arabiya satellite TV channel
Syria says local security forces foiled an attack on the US embassy
Syria's relationship with the US is under the spotlight following an attempted attack on the US embassy in Damascus, apparently foiled by local security forces.

All sorts of questions have been raised, particularly given the extraordinary reach of Syria's own intelligence and security services.

Relations between Washington and Damascus are especially bad at the moment.

So could this incident take this relationship down a different path, or is it only going to serve to make the situation worse?

For the Bush administration, Syria is simply on the wrong side of history.

It is a close ally of Iran. It is a strong backer of Hezbollah, not to mention radical Palestinian groups - whose leaders in many cases reside in Damascus.

And Syria's continuing efforts to influence events in Lebanon are seen by Washington as directly opposed to its efforts to bolster the country's fragile democracy.

Post-9/11 help

As a result, the Bush administration has sought to isolate Syria and encouraged its friends to do the same.

Relatives of 9/11 victims mark the fifth anniversary of the attacks at Ground Zero
The Damascus attack comes only a day after 9/11 commemorations

But history has a way of biting back.

Washington's entanglement in Iraq; its failure to promote effective international action against Iran; and its support for Israel's clumsy war against Hezbollah have all devalued the Bush administration's diplomatic currency in the region.

And in the US there is a growing chorus of former officials and policy experts calling for the administration to change gear and re-engage with the Damascus regime.

That is the context against which this failed attack on the US embassy has taken place - only a day after the fifth anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks against New York and Washington.

Its timing serves as a reminder that in the wake of those attacks, the Syrian intelligence services were reportedly among the best providers of information to their US counterparts on al-Qaeda's activities.

But then, for a variety of reasons, the relationship soured.

An eyewitness describes the scene of the attacks

Syria 'foils' US embassy attack
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01 Sep 06 |  Middle East
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29 Apr 04 |  Middle East
Country profile: Syria
30 Aug 06 |  Country profiles

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