Report: Clinton to hold Syria talks with Russian officials, UN envoy

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with top Russian and U.N officials on Thursday in hopes of renewing a diplomatic solution to the civil war in Syria.

Clinton will meet with her Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and U.N. Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi during her visit to Ireland, where she is attending a conference, according to reports.

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The high-level meeting comes as concerns grow in Washington that embattled Syrian leader Bashar Assad could use chemical weapons against opposition forces who have waged a violent struggle to depose his regime.

The White House this week warned Assad that using chemical weapons would be a “red line” that would invite a severe U.S. response.

President Obama, in a speech Monday, told Assad that using his chemical arsenal would be “totally unacceptable.”

"If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences, and you will be held accountable,” Obama said at the National Defense University.

Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict have dragged on for more than a year, stymied by Russia and China, who have blocked measures to impose tougher sanctions on Assad. But reports this week that Assad’s forces have begun moving their chemical stockpiles have sparked renewed diplomatic efforts.

A report from NBC News on Wednesday evening said that Syrian military officials were awaiting orders from Assad on using chemical weapons. U.S. officials told NBC news there were fears that the Syrians were mixing “precursor” chemicals into bombs.

Securing the support of Russia, a key ally of Damascus, would be essential to any U.N. measures to pressure Assad. 

Obama has faced strong pressure from GOP lawmakers to do more to aid Syria’s opposition in its fight against Assad, but the president has rejected calls for military intervention, instead focusing on providing humanitarian aid and diplomacy.

The administration, though, has refused to spell out what actions it would take to punish Assad if he uses chemical weapons on his own people.

In an interview with CBS News on Wednesday, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Syria’s leadership that the president was likely to follow through on his threats.

“One of the things about President Obama, he is very tough-minded,” said Gates. “I think it would be a mistake, particularly on Bashar Assad's part, to underestimate him.”