U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Syrian opposition leaders Thursday in Rome, where he could announce new aid for Syrian rebels.
The talks come amid a wider Friends of Syria meeting, bringing together mostly European and Middle Eastern nations that back those opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Kerry said Wednesday the U.S. is seeking ways to speed up the political transition the Syrian people are seeking.
During his current nine-nation tour of European and Arab capitals, Secretary of State John Kerry has made coordinating efforts to support the Syrian opposition in its struggle against President Bashar al-Assad a top priority. Wednesday, after meeting with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Kerry emphasized the need to push for an end to the two-year-old conflict that has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives.
“We are examining and developing ways to accelerate the political transition that the Syrian people seek and deserve," said Kerry.
So far the United States has provided only communications equipment to rebels in Syria. Administration officials have opposed sending military aid, fearing weapons could end up in the hands of radical fighters.
But recent news reports say the U.S. is ready to change that policy and begin directly supplying Syria’s opposition coalition with non-lethal equipment such as body armor, armored vehicles, possibly training and humanitarian aid.
U.S. and European officials say the White House is still weighing the new policy.
In Washington, proponents of American intervention in the Syrian conflict, like Senator John McCain, say non-lethal aid is a step in the right direction but more is needed to help the rebels.
“It is a small measure, and I do not think at this stage of the game that it will positively affect the situation on the ground," said McCain. "We need a safe zone. We need to supply them with lethal weapons, and we need to support them. And we are not doing that.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Qatar crown prince, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, start their meeting at the Prince's Sea Palace residence in Doha, Qatar, March 5, 2013.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is met by Qatari Chief of Protocol Abdullah Fakhroo and Qatari Ambassador to the U.S. Mohamed al-Rumaihi at Doha International Airport, March 5, 2013.
The red carpet is rolled up after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry boarded his plane to leave Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on his way to the final destination of Qatar, March 5, 2013.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan invites U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to pose with him for a photograph before their dinner meeting at the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, March 4, 2013.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on arrival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2013.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, March 3, 2013.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attends an Antikabir Wreath Laying ceremony at the Tomb of Ataturk in Ankara, Turkey, March 2, 2013.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds a news conference with Syrian National Coalition Chairman Mouaz al-Khatib and Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi at Villa Madama in Rome, Feb. 28, 2013.
A peace activist protests at the end of statements given by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Syrian National Coalition President Mouaz al-Khatib at Villa Madama in Rome, Feb. 28, 2013.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Feb. 27, 2013.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gestures while standing with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Berlin, Germany, Feb. 26, 2013.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak to the media at the Chancellery in Berlin, Feb. 26, 2013.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with the children of U.S. embassy staff in Berlin, Feb. 26, 2013.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at a news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague in London, Feb. 25, 2013.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits with the traveling media aboard a plane en route to London on his inaugural trip as secretary, Feb. 24, 2013.
While there is concern that increasing support for the rebels could escalate the conflict and wider tensions in the region, analyst John Pike with Global Security.org says American leadership to help moderate rebel forces and maintain regional stability is long overdue.
“I’m certainly concerned about what the Russians are going to think," said Pike. "I am certainly concerned about some of the aid falling into the wrong hands. I’m concerned about what might happen with Syria and chemical weapons, but I think that the problem that would arise if we just stand by and watch it on TV, the way we’ve been doing for the last two years, are even worse.”
European Union foreign ministers agreed last week to extend an arms embargo against Syria, but did open the door to providing more non-lethal support to protect civilians.
Leaders from the opposition Syrian National Coalition had planned to boycott the Rome talks to protest what they saw as a lack of response from the international community, but now say they will attend the meeting set for Thursday.
Demonstrators chant slogans and wave Syrian opposition flags during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, Bustan al-Qasr district, Aleppo, Syria, March 1, 2013.
A man sells gas stoves in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 28, 2013.
A child looks out of a window in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 28, 2013.
Men ride a scooter past buildings damaged by shelling from Syrian forces, Maarat al-Nuaman, Idlib province, Syria, Feb. 26, 2013.
A citizen journalism image provided by the Aleppo Media Center, AMC, shows people searching the rubble after houses were hit by a missile fired by Syrian government forces in Ard Al-Hamra, Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 26, 2013.
A boy walks past members of an Islamist group as they hold flags during a protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Deir el-Zor, Syria, Feb. 25, 2013.
Destruction and debris are seen in Al-Suwayqa, Aleppo after forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad captured the area from the Free Syrian Army, Feb. 25, 2013.
Ammunition that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad say belonged to the Free Syrian Army is seen in Al-Suwayqa, Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 25, 2013.
Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons and deploy after they seized control of the government's 80th Brigade's base near Aleppo International Airport, Feb. 23, 2013.
A view shows military vehicles which belonged to forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad forces at 80th Brigade's base after it was seized, Feb. 23, 2013.