WASHINGTON - Despite growing alarm over the Syrian government's military advances, Obama administration officials are split over whether to arm the country's rebel forces or make other military moves deepening U.S. involvement in the conflict.
President Obama's top national security advisers met at the White House on Wednesday to air their differences.
The administration's caution persists despite its nearly two-year-old demand that President Bashar Assad step down, its vows to help the besieged Syrian rebels on the ground and its threats to respond to any chemical weapons use.
U.S. officials had hoped this week to reach a decision on arming the rebels to halt the violence and motivate the government and the opposition to hold peace talks.
But they are still uncertain whether that's the best way to reshape a war that now includes Hezbollah and Iranian fighters backing Assad's armed forces, and al-Qaida-linked extremists backing the rebellion.
"Nobody wins in Syria the way things are going," Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters Wednesday after meeting with British Foreign Secretary William Hague. "And what we have been pushing for, all of us involved in this effort, is a political solution that ends the violence, saves Syria, stops the killing and destruction of the entire nation."
Obama's moves throughout the 27-month civil war, from political support for the opposition to nonlethal aid for its more moderate fighters, have occurred in close concert with America's partners in Europe. All agree that the efforts haven't done enough.
Hague also stressed the need for a political solution to end the fighting that has now killed some 80,000 people, without outlining how his government might contribute.
Kerry, who postponed a trip this week to Israel and three other Mideast countries to participate in the White House talks, has spoken regularly about the need to change Assad's calculation that he can win the war militarily, if only to get him into serious discussions with the opposition.
Officials said some at the White House, the Pentagon and in the intelligence community remained hesitant about providing weapons or other lethal support to a rebellion increasingly defined by extremists who, along with Assad, have turned a political insurrection into a sectarian war.