Syria tops Hagel's agenda for Mideast trip

Beginning Saturday, Hagel will make stops in Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, as part of the Obama administration's full-court press on key American allies in the region, Pentagon officials told reporters Friday. 

Hagel will meet with top military leaders in Amman to discuss the two-year war by opposition forces battling to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad. 

"In each country we will be seeking to strengthen and reinforce the relationships," a Defense official said during a briefing at the Pentagon.

Aside from discussing possible U.S. options in Syria, Hagel is also expected to lock in a number of lucrative arms deals with Saudi Arabia, Israel and UAE, according to the official. 

"This is more advanced weaponry than we've sold before," the official said. 

As part of that laundry list of U.S. weapons and equipment heading to regional allies are 25 advanced F-16 Desert Falcon fighters to UAE and 85 American F-15 warplanes to Riyadh, with a total price tag of over $450 billion, the official said. 

The U.S.-Israeli weapons deal will include a number of advanced radar systems, KC-135 aerial refuelers and — for the first time — V-22 Osprey aircraft to Jerusalem, according to the department. 

Washington will also provide training for these weapon systems to foreign militaries, as well as oversight measures to ensure allied forces do not use those weapons against each other or against the United States. 

"There will be enhanced end-use monitoring consistent with what we provide with sensitive technology to our other allies and partners around the region," the official said, "and there will be consultations prior to any of the weapons' deployment."

Hagel's visit and the pending weapon sales are yet another indicator of the Obama administration's efforts to ramp up U.S. involvement in the region. 

Those efforts have only accelerated as the situation in Syria deteriorates.  

Along with Hagel's visit, Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryTrump's dangerous Guantánamo fixation will fuel fire for terrorists Tech beefs up lobbying amid Russia scrutiny Overnight Tech: Senate Dems want FCC chief recused from Sinclair merger | Tech rallies on Capitol Hill for DACA | Facebook beefs up lobbying ranks MORE will visit Turkey and other nations in the region this week, while the president will also hold one-on-one meetings in Washington with top diplomats from Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The timing of the visits, along with continued deployments of U.S. military advisers to Jordan, has set the stage for a possible uptick in American involvement in Syria.

Publicly, the White House remains committed to its strategy of economic and diplomatic sanctions to force a regime change in Syria.

But on Wednesday, Hagel told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the White House's strategy "hasn't achieved the objective" of removing Assad from power.