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Jordanian, US Forces Said to Hold Exercises

JORDAN and the United States have held joint military exercises that were postponed in May because of US dissatisfaction with the way Jordan was enforcing sanctions against Iraq, an official source said over the weekend.

"These exercises were completed recently," the source said, requesting anonymity and refusing to give further details. Several hundred military engineers from each country would have taken part in the original exercise in late May.

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Western diplomats said holding the exercises was a sign of US approval of Jordan's tightening the sanctions against Iraq, once its main trade partner. Some diplomats said they believed the exercises took place in Jordan last week and they thought Washington might resume military aid to Jordan shortly.

Washington froze the aid at the height of the Gulf crisis in 1990, when Jordan's apparent sympathy with Iraq angered its main Western and Gulf allies.

Three months ago, under US pressure to stop merchants busting the UN trade embargo, Jordan virtually sealed the border with Iraq to private trade. Jordan has also become more critical of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, once a close ally. Syrians stall on withdrawal from Lebanon

Syria, the undisputed master in Lebanon, is dragging its feet over withdrawing its Army from Beirut and other coastal cities, fueling a political crisis that many fear could rekindle sectarian hostilities.

Under a 1989 Arab League-brokered peace treaty to end the 1975-90 civil war, Syria was given virtual stewardship of Lebanon in return for pacifying warring Christian and Muslim militias.

But the Syrians were to withdraw to the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon two years after political reforms were ratified. Those reforms, giving Muslims an equal share of power with the long-dominant Christians, were endorsed by Lebanon's parliament Sept. 24, 1990. Syrian president Hafez al-Assad, however, is apparently loathe to withdraw as agreed, despite US urging to abide by the treaty.

Syria has had some 40,000 troops in Lebanon since 1976. The troops were ostensibly moved in as an Arab League peacekeeping force.

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Controlling Lebanon is a crucial part of President Assad's regional strategy and dream of a "Greater Syria." It is also a key card in Syria's negotiations with Israel in US-sponsored Middle East peace talks.

Assad has long asserted that he will not relinquish military control of Lebanon until Israel abandons the border strip it occupies in south Lebanon.

US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stressed Sept. 8 that Washington now wants to see restoration of "full Lebanese sovereignty" accelerated and a Syrian pullback to the Bekaa "as soon as possible."

For now, Assad is ignoring the US and with Syria showing some signs of flexibility in the Mideast peace talks for the first time, it is difficult to see how Washington can pressure him.

There are many in Lebanon who fear that with the country gripped by its worst political crisis since the war, Syria will now cite the turmoil as a pretext for not withdrawing this month. Gulf Island dispute may be eased, diplomats say

Officials and diplomats are cautiously optimistic about the chances of defusing a dispute over a small Persian Gulf island that has rocked relations between Iran and its Arab neighbors.

"The problem will be resolved.... There is movement," a Gulf official, who declined to be named, said yesterday of the efforts to end the row over the island of Abu Musa, which Iran has reportedly attempted to annex in spite of an arrangement to control it jointly withthe United Arab Emirates.

The foreign minister of Syria, Iran's closest Arab friend and an ally of the Gulf Arab oil states since the Gulf war with Iraq, paid a quick visit to Iran on Friday for talks on the dispute with Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani.

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