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Syria 'transition' to be focus of US, France talks

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The United States and France are examining how they can accelerate a political transition in war-torn Syria and the plans will be discussed in Rome on Thursday, said US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry also signalled that Washington may boost aid to the Syrian opposition, which he said "needs more help" as it battles to oust President Bashar al-Assad from power and end a brutal conflict that has killed around 70,000 people.

"We are examining ways to accelerate the political transition," Kerry told a joint press conference with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Wednesday, before flying to Rome for a key "Friends of Syria" meeting.

"We think it's very important that more of our assistance gets to areas that have been liberated from the regime," he said.

Citing US and European officials, the Washington Post daily said the White House could agree to a policy shift and supply rebels with direct aid such as body armour, armoured vehicles and even military training.

A State Department official however refused to confirm the report, which would mark a new step in the non-lethal aid, such as communications equipment, which the US administration has so far supplied to the Syrian opposition.

"We've really got to give the diplomacy a little bit of breathing room here as the talks play out in Rome," State Department deputy acting spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.

The Syrian opposition, which has been increasingly frustrated by the US refusal to supply it with arms in its almost two-year war against Assad, had earlier this week refused to attend the Rome talks.

It was cajoled back on board by pledges from Kerry and his British counterpart William Hague, that the meeting would not just be a talking shop but would discuss concrete steps forward.

The Washington Post stressed that direct military aid remained off the table, but suggested the United States may meet another opposition demand and channel some of its humanitarian aid directly to it.

The United States has worked to unify the Syrian opposition, and ensure it is representative of all Syrians, while seeking to weed out extremist elements.

"We think they've made significant progress," Ventrell told reporters, adding that "in the spaces... that they've been able to control, they're helping to get the governing institutions up and running."

"We want to help them as they maintain the institutions of the state.... we're talking about basic services, water, electricity -- but also (to) build up new institutions in terms of governance, rule of law, police."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130227/syria-transition-be-focus-us-france-talks