Kerry to meet Putin, Lavrov, again seeking tougher stance from Russia on Assad in Syria

MOSCOW Secretary of State John Kerry is making his case to Russian President Vladimir Putin for Russia to take a tougher stance on Syria at a time when Israel's weekend air strikes against the beleaguered Mideast nation have added an unpredictable factor to the talks.

Kerry arrived Tuesday in Moscow for talks with the most powerful ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

Officials said Kerry hopes to change Moscow's thinking on Syria with two new angles: American threats to arm the Syrian rebels and evidence of chemical weapon attacks (video) by the Assad regime.

Over the weekend, Israeli warplanes targeted what Israel claimed were caches of Iranian missiles bound for Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terror group. Such weapons would allow Hezbollah to strike Tel Aviv and as far as southern Israel from inside Lebanese territory.

  • rejected by U.S. officials. The State Department said the administration continues to believe that Syria's large chemical weapons stockpiles remain securely in the regime's control.

    The Obama administration opened the door to new military options in Syria after declaring last week it strongly believed the Assad regime used chemical weapons in two attacks in March. Two days after that announcement, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said arming the Syrian rebels was a policy consideration.

    Until now, U.S. efforts to bolster the rebels' fighting skills and gather intelligence on the groups operating inside Syria have been limited to small training camps in Jordan, according to two U.S. officials who weren't authorized to speak about secret activities and demanded anonymity.

    There are several options for escalation, ranging from arming the rebels to targeted air strikes and no-fly zones. However, arming the rebels is the most likely escalation, officials said.

    While the Israeli actions have made Kerry's Russia efforts more unpredictable, some in Congress tried to be optimistic.

    Maryland Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he hopes Kerry can persuade Russia to use its influence to convince the besieged Syrian leader that he should step down.

    "Hopefully the cooperation on the (Boston) Marathon bombing will open the door there," Ruppersberger said.

    After visiting Moscow for the first time since he became secretary of state, Kerry will travel to Rome for talks with members of the new Italian government, as well as meetings with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh to discuss Middle East peace prospects.

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