Radwan Ziadeh, Syrian democracy and human rights advocate. (Amanda Voisard/The Washington Post)

RADWAN ZIADEH embodies the hopes that Syrians had when they first rose up against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. He is a secular liberal activist who not only dreams of a Syrian democracy, but also for years did his best to promote one through organizations he founded. A fixture on Washington’s foreign policy circuit, Mr. Ziadeh was a go-to ally for the Obama administration’s State Department when it sought to create an alternative to the Assad regime. He responded by organizing a series of conferences in Turkey that produced a 238-page “Syria Transition Roadmap.”

Now, inexplicably, Mr. Ziadeh is being threatened with deportation from the United States, where he has lived for the past decade and where his three children were born. In response to his request for asylum, the Arlington office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services found this month that he is, in fact, a refu­gee deserving protection. Yet it issued a preliminary notice of intent to deny him asylum on grounds that he had “provided material support” to “an undesignated terrorist organization” — namely, members of the same U.S.-backed rebel groups that attended those conferences.

The blinkered judgment is a gross violation of common sense and an embarrassment to the federal government bureaucracy. It ought to be reversed before it has a more damaging impact on the faltering U.S. effort to find a formula for peace in Syria.

The facts are undisputed. Two of the conferences Mr. Ziadeh organized in 2012 and 2013 in Istanbul were for a “security working group” contributing to the overall transition plan. The attendees were nominated by Salim Idriss, the U.S.-backed head of a Syrian opposition coalition. Their expenses for attending the conference were covered by Mr. Ziadeh’s organization with funding from an institute affiliated with the Canadian government. The whole point, according to former U.S. ambassador Frederic Hof, who worked on planning for Syria, was “to support a democratic and peaceful political transition.”

The Asylum Office nevertheless found that Mr. Ziadeh “engaged in terrorist activity” because some of those who attended the meetings were members of the Free Syrian Army and Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which, it noted, “used weapons with the intent to endanger the safety of Syrian government officials.” The fact that the United States itself provided some of the FSA’s weapons and fully supported its attempt to “endanger” the Assad regime somehow failed to impress the Asylum Office. In effect, Mr. Ziadeh is being accused of terrorism because he acted at U.S. urging (and with Canadian funding) to bring together U.S.-backed Syrian leaders.

More than the personal safety of one dedicated Arab freedom fighter is at stake. By appearing to repudiate and persecute Mr. Ziadeh, the U.S. government sends a message to Syria’s remaining anti-Assad forces that even Washington’s closest allies are subject to betrayal. The contrast between Vladi­mir Putin’s unwavering defense of the blood-soaked Assad clique and the pending refusal of the United States to grant Mr. Ziadeh safe harbor is stark — and sickening.