WASHINGTON The White House is considering a shift in policy toward the nearly two-year-long conflict in Syria, and may send the rebels body armor and armed vehicles, and possibly provide military training, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday, citing U.S. and European officials.
Secretary of State John Kerry was expected to discuss the proposed policy change with officials during his nine-nation tour of European and Arab capitals, the newspaper said. U.S. officials remain opposed to sending weapons to the rebels, it said.
Kerry is to meet Syrian opposition leaders at a "Friends of Syria" conference in Rome on Thursday.
On Monday in London, Kerry said President Barack Obama was evaluating more steps to "fulfill our obligation to innocent people," but did not give details or say whether Washington was reconsidering whether to arm the rebels. "We are determined that the Syrian oppositions is not going to be dangling in the wind," he said.
Kerry also said the continued violence in Syria, which the United Nations estimates has killed 70,000 people, represented further evidence that it was time for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to relinquish his post. At the same time, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague called for support for Syria's opposition to be increased significantly in order to help bring the protracted conflict to an end.
The United States has provided millions of dollars for food, medical care and clothing for Syrians and refugees, but has not sent aid directly to the rebels or the political opposition.
(Writing by Jackie Frank; Editing by Eric Walsh)