Kerry urges Syrian opposition to attend Rome talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged members of the Syrian opposition to turn up for talks in Rome this week, insisting that more help is on the way in their fight against President Bashar Assad.

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague, right, watches as US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, answers a reporter's question during a joint news conference following their meeting in central London, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013. This is the first overseas trip for the US Secretary of State in his new role. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, pool)

LONDON (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged members of the Syrian opposition to turn up for talks in Rome this week, insisting that more help is on the way in their fight against President Bashar Assad.

Kerry was in London for the first leg of his debut overseas trip — a hectic nine-country dash through Europe and the Middle East. The trip includes a Syrian opposition conference in Rome, which some members of the sharply divided Syrian opposition council have threatened to boycott.

A senior Obama administration official said Sunday that Kerry has sent his top Syrian envoy to Cairo in hopes of convincing opposition leaders that their participation in the conference in Rome is critical to addressing questions from potential donors and securing additional aid from the United States and Europe.

The Rome meeting on Thursday is the centerpiece of Kerry's nine-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East

"We are not coming to Rome simply to talk," Kerry said at a joint news conference with Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague. "We are coming to Rome to talk about next steps."

Kerry said he was sympathetic to the opposition's complaints that the international community had not done enough, and noted that as a senator he had called for the Obama administration to consider military aid to the Syrian opposition.

But he noted that he now is part of the administration and "and the president of the United States has sent me here ... because he is concerned about the course of events."

"This moment is ripe for us to be considering what more we can do," he said, adding that if the opposition wants results, "join us."

Administration officials have debated whether the U.S. should arm the rebels, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey having said they urged such a course of action. The White House has been unwilling to do so for fears the weapons could end up in the wrong hands. Currently, the U.S. provides only non-lethal support and humanitarian aid.

The United Nations says at least 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's 2-year civil war, which began as an uprising against Assad's regime.

"We are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind, wondering where the support is, if it is coming," he said. ""We are not going to let the Syrian opposition not have its ability to have its voice properly heard in this process."

Kerry said the Syrian people "deserve better" than the violence currently gripping their country as he stood alongside Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Hague also stressed the need for action, saying an "appalling injustice" is being done to Syrian citizens.

"In the face of such murder and threat of instability, our policy cannot stay static as the weeks go by," Hague told the press conference. "We must significantly increase support for the Syrian opposition. We are preparing to do just that."

Associated Press writer Cassandra Vinograd contributed to this report.

Associated Press
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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