U.S., Russia discuss the future of Syria

DUBLIN – Diplomatic efforts to end Syria’s civil war moved forward Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joining Russia’s foreign minister and the U.N. peace envoy to the Arab country for extraordinary three-way talks that suggested Washington and Moscow might finally unite behind a strategy as the Assad regime weakens.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said intelligence reports raise fears that an increasingly desperate Syrian President Bashar Assad is considering using his chemical weapons arsenal – which the U.S. and Russia agree is unacceptable.

“I think there is no question that we remain very concerned, very concerned that, as the opposition advances, in particular in Damascus, that regime might very well consider the use of chemical weapons,” Panetta said.

It was unclear whether Assad might target rebels within Syria or bordering countries, but growing concern about such a scenario was clearly adding urgency to discussions in Ireland’s capital.

On the sidelines of a human rights conference, Clinton gathered with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and mediator Lakhdar Brahimi for about 40 minutes to look for a strategy the international community could rally around to end Syria’s 21-month civil war.

“We have talked a little bit about how we can work out hopefully a process that will get Syria back from the brink,” Brahimi said after the meeting ended.