By Jill Dougherty
The U.S. State Department said Monday it wasn't surprised that Iran's newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should stay in power until 2014.
"We have a number of differences with Iran, and the leadership there, over Syria and the path forward," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. "We've expressed on a number of occasions our concerns about their recent aid to the regime and the influx of foreign fighters, and specifically Hezbollah."
The United States and other Western nations are working on how to help the rebels in Syria's brutal, two-year civil war as the al-Assad government receives backing from Iran and Russia.
By Kevin Liptak
Even as President Barack Obama seeks to rally support for his plan to further assist Syrian rebels at this week's Group of Eight conference in Northern Ireland, polls show Americans back home casting a wary eye on providing arms to opposition forces in the conflict-torn nation.
In a Gallup survey conducted over the weekend, 54% of adults said they disapproved of the Obama administration's decision to provide military aid to rebel fighters in Syria, compared to 37% who said they approved of the move.
The announcement of the new lethal aid to Syria came on Thursday, when the White House said it had confirmed that chemical weapons were used by President Bashar al-Assad against rebels and his own people, and thereby crossed a "red line." While the Obama administration did not specify what type of military support it would provide, sources have told CNN that small arms and ammunition are part of the package.FULL STORY
By Barbara Starr
Al Qaeda's affiliate inside Syria is now the best-equipped arm of the terror group in existence today, according to informal assessments by U.S. and Middle East intelligence agencies, a private sector analyst directly familiar with the information told CNN.
Concern about the Syrian al Qaeda-affiliated group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the al-Nusra Front, is at an all-time high, according to the analyst, with as many as 10,000 fighters and supporters inside Syria. The United States has designated al-Nusra Front as a terrorist group with links to al Qaeda in Iraq.
That assessment is shared by some Middle Eastern intelligence agencies that have long believed the United States is underestimating the Sunni-backed al Qaeda movement in the country, according to a Middle East source. It is also believed that Iran is running training camps inside Syria for Hezbollah and that other Iranian militia fighters are coming into the country to fight for the regime.
By Ashley Killough
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Sunday President Barack Obama was making a sound call in his decision to provide military support to Syrian rebels and suggested such support should include taking out Syrian government airstrips.
"The reality is, we need to tip the scales, not simply to nudge them," Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, said on CNN's "State of the Union," adding that any involvement would best be done with U.S. partners in Europe and in the Gulf region.
"A lot of what we can see done can be done through our allies," he said.
Read the full story on CNN's Political Ticker.
Watch CNN's Chris Lawrence and Retired Gen. James "Spider" Marks review military options for aiding Syrian rebels here.
By Jill Dougherty
As the Obama administration debates further help for besieged Syrian opposition fighters, it is moving to aid Syrian civilians in opposition-controlled areas in rebuilding shattered towns and villages.
U.S. officials announced Wednesday they are easing economic sanctions on Syria, allowing the importation of equipment and technology into liberated areas of Syria. The steps are being coordinated through the Departments of State, Commerce, and Treasury.
Secretary of State John Kerry signed a limited waiver of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003 that authorizes the export , subject to case-by-case review, of certain U.S. items.
By Elise Labott
Key meetings this week on Syria will try to figure out how the Obama administration can help moderate heavy rebel casualties and stem opposition defections to radical groups as the prospect for a political solution to the civil war grows dim.
Recent gains by the regime in Qusayr and its ongoing offensive to retake areas of Aleppo - all with the help of Hezbollah fighters - has created an urgency in the administration to act before President Barack Obama's stated policy objective of ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is lost.
"It's really bad but whether this is fatal, we don't' know," one senior administration official said of recent gains by regime forces. "There is a recognition that unless we provide help, a lot of help, the situation is going to be very, very terrible."
CNN's Elise Labott is along the Syrian-Israeli border where things have been relatively quiet - until now.
By Barbara Starr
CNN has learned that U.S. intelligence agencies have identified three Russian amphibious warships in the eastern Mediterranean that are believed to be carrying weapons shipments that might be used to resupply the Syrian regime, according to a Pentagon official.
The official declined to be named due to the sensitive nature of the information.
The United States has been tracking the ships since they left Russian ports several days ago. U.S. satellites were able to see some indications of containers being loaded onto the ships. Although it's not confirmed, it's believed the ships may be carrying some components of the controversial Russian S-300 air defense missile system and other weapons for the regime.
The United States has been pressing the Russians for weeks to not deliver that system to Syria because of the threat it would pose by upgrading Syria's already robust air defense system. The United States believes it would give the Syrian government a much greater ability to target U.S., Israeli, NATO or other aircraft that may try to strike targets on the ground in the future.
The official said the United States did not see any military helicopters being loaded; it is believed the Syrians want to add the helicopters to their inventories.
The Russians have kept a regular naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean so they can move in and out of the port of Tartous, where they have facilities.
Several sensitive military assets are in the region this month as well. In the next two weeks, the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower will also be in the region on a scheduled rotation as it returns to its home port on the East Coast. A U.S. Patriot missile battery and F-16s are heading to Jordan for a training exercise, though the Jordanians have asked for the Patriots to remain after the exercise concludes at the end of the month.
By Barbara Starr
Jordan has asked the United States to keep a Patriot missile battery there after an upcoming military exercise as part of a U.S.-backed effort to bolster Jordanian military defenses.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Jordan made the request but that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had "not fully reviewed it."
Warren said Hagel would look at it when he returns to Washington from a NATO summit on Wednesday night.
The United States also has decided to deploy F-16s to Jordan, but it's not clear if a similar request will be made to keep those fighter jets in place.
By Jill Dougherty
Secretary of State John Kerry sharply criticized Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday, accusing him of soliciting help from Iran and its fighters on the ground in Syria as well as fighters from Hezbollah.
"A designated terrorist organization has now crossed over from Lebanon into Syria and is actively engaged in the fighting," Kerry said at a State Department press availability about the Syrian civil war.
Al-Assad, he said, is willing to use Scud missiles against civilians and noted an "extraordinary number" of people are trapped in the besieged rebel stronghold of Qusair near the Lebanese border.
"He will not allow humanitarian aid to go in until the military has finished what (it) intends to do," Kerry said.
"So I think the world is seeing the actions of a person who has lost touch with any reality except his own and is willing to wreak any kind of punishment on his own - the people of his country - simply so that he can maintain power," he said.