Kerry says he's weighing new options against Syria's Assad

Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday the Obama administration is weighing new options for dealing with Syria's Bashar Assad, suggesting the United States may yet ramp up its involvement in the country's 23-month-old civil war.

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The comments come a day after President Obama struck a much softer tone on Syria than he did during last year's State of the Union address, vowing only to “keep the pressure” on Assad. Last year, the president said he had “no doubt” that the Syrian regime would soon crumble.

Kerry put to rest any speculation that Obama has given up on getting Assad to step down.

Despite growing evidence that Assad's days are numbered, Kerry said, “that hasn’t sunk into him yet, obviously.”

“And so there is some need to address the question of his calculation about where things are,” he said following a meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. 

“And when we finalize the components of my trip and you’re aware of what I’m doing, I think one of my purposes will be to try to see what can be done with respect to that calculation and how we might be able to affect it.”

Kerry is expected to visit Israel, Egypt and several European nations on his first trip abroad later this month.

“We need to address the question of President Assad’s calculation currently,” he added. “I believe there are additional things that can be done to change his current perception. I’m not going to go into them here today now, but those are things that – I’m new on the job here, but I’ve got a good sense of what I think we might propose. And we need to really consult with an awful lot of players here before we start again making any kind of public announcements.”

Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Clinton, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said they supported arming the Syrian rebels last summer – an option Kerry himself thought was worthy of consideration, along with creating safe zones, when he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That option was rejected by the White House shortly before the election, however.

One thing that's not being discussed: Using Kerry's past connection to reach out personally to Assad now that he's secretary of State.

“Absolutely not. And I would not be expecting that,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday. “Suffice to say, at the time that he had the relationship with him, it was well before he was involved in the bloody massacre of thousands and thousands of his own people.”

Kerry has met Assad several times and said he hoped he'd be a reformer when he took over control of Syria when his father, Hafez, died in 2000.