By Jill Dougherty and Jamie Crawford
As news broke Monday that Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab had defected, the U.S. State Department said it was "encouraged," describing Hijab as the "highest-profile official to defect from the Assad regime."
"When the prime minister of the entire government defects, that's clearly an indication that they're on the way out," acting deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.
But experts on Syria aren't so sure.
"The prime minister in Syria is the head of the government, but the government in Syria doesn't rule the country," Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told CNN. "It's the regime, and the regime includes the security services, the army and the members of the Assad family."
By Jamie Crawford
A "symbolic" pioneer in Syria's scientific advancements can now be added to the list of departures and defections from the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in recent days.
Mohammad Ahmad Faris, Syria's first man in space, crossed into Turkey this past weekend after meeting with commanders of the rebel Free Syrian Army in the Syrian city of Aleppo, the Turkish news agency Anadolu reported.
"I am ready to provide assistance to the Free Syrian Army," Anadolu quoted Faris as telling commanders of the umbrella group of rebel fighters. "We are with you all the way."
By Jill Dougherty, reporting from Aspen, CO
Top national security officials – from the Obama administration, from governments around the world, from think tanks – are arriving at Aspen for the Aspen Security Forum. It’s a gold mine of the latest inside thinking on national security threats and how to deal with them.
Standing at the CNN live shot location I flag down Jane Harman, formerly the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, now Director, President and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC.
On Syria she’s waving a “red flag” on any idea of arming the opposition so I ask her how the administration should proceed?
“Cautiously,” she says. “I take seriously the fact that there are a huge number of casualties in the country now, but we have just had it reconfirmed that al Qaeda is increasing numbers in the opposition and just saying ‘Let’s arm the opposition, lets start an air or land war in Syria, I don’t think that necessarily leads to a better result.” FULL POST
By Jill Dougherty, reporting from Aspen, Colorado
U.S. officials and experts on Al Qaeda agree that al Qaeda has a presence among the opposition in Syria. But how strong are they? How deeply do they influencet the opposition?
At the Aspen Security Forum all you have to do to find an opinion on that is stand under the aspen trees and wait for an expert to saunter by.
I button-holed Richard Barrett, coordinator of a New-York-based team appointed to advise the Security Council on the effective development and implementation of sanctions aimed at al Qaeda and the Taliban.
“There’s no doubt at all that some of the people who refer to themselves as al Qaeda from Iraq have gone into Syria. I think that’s absolutely without doubt," Barrett tells me. FULL POST
By Barbara Starr
Senior level Obama administration officials are now holding regular high-level meetings to discuss the ongoing situation in Syria and begin thinking about U.S. priorities in a post-Assad era, a senior U.S. official told CNN Monday.
"We are in the early stages of contemplating an Assad aftermath," the official said. While Syria has been a top priority for months, the official said specific concerns about the security situation in Syria have grown in recent days.
"The meetings are being convened to discuss the current situation and ensure that we are doing all we can as the crisis has worsened," the official said. "The intensity of the discussions has grown. The level of concern has increased considerably."
The United States and its allies are blatantly accusing the Syrian president of having blood on his hands.
But right now, any talk of military intervention is still just talk.
United Nations observers report finding 13 corpses in eastern Syria this week with their hands tied behind their backs.
This, only days after the massacre in Houla that unleashed global outrage.
Russia and China made it clear again today that they're staunchly opposed to using force against Syria.
And the Obama administration shows no sign that it's ready to change course.
CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has details.
By Elise Labott, CNN
Fifteen months into the crisis in Syria, and the Obama administration is, as one U.S. official describes it, in "a holding pattern," waiting for Russia to abandon its support for President Bashar al-Assad, waiting for sanctions to topple the economy and waiting for an organized Syrian opposition to present a coherent vision for a post-Assad Syria.
As the U.S. waits for what many believe is the inevitable failure of a United Nations-backed plan, American officials say they would rather U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan to pronounce his diplomatic efforts a failure himself.
Senior officials say the international monitors provided for in the current agreement with the Syrian government, however small in number, offer a small buffer against Assad's forces. Additionally, the U.S. and its allies on the U.N. Security Council want Russia to come to its own conclusion that Assad is not living up to his end of the agreement in ceasing the violence, and the plan is a failure. The concern is should the U.S. push for the next step, it would further alienate Moscow, which is skeptical about efforts to push out Syria's president. How the plan fails is as important as when it does, Western diplomats said this week.
"You have the politics part of this plan, and you have what is really happening on the ground," one U.S. official said. "We are going to be in a bit of a holding pattern for a while, debating on whether this has succeeded or failed, and whether it was designed to fail."
Kofi Annan, the United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria, told the U.N. Security Council that he was "gravely concerned at the course of events" in the crisis-ridden Middle East nation, after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad failed to withdraw troops from cities and towns by Tuesday's deadline. (For the latest Syria developments click here)
In a letter, Annan said the Syrian government should have used the days ahead of the deadline to send a "powerful political signal of peace."
Annan wrote the letter as Syrian troops pounded cities across the nation, opposition activists said. Annan said he was not giving up on the peace plan he brokered, but the fresh violence as the deadline came and went blighted hopes for success.
Here's the text of his letter: FULL POST
By Jill Dougherty
A leading member of the Syrian opposition says their leaders, who hope to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later this week, will request more assistance as the siege by Bashar al-Assad's government continues.
Leaders of the Syrian National Council, the largest opposition group, will attend the "Friends of Syria" meeting in Istanbul this weekend. The meeting, a follow-up to an earlier gathering in Tunisia, will focus on ways to put a stop to the carnage in Syria and support a transition to democracy.
Representatives from 60 countries are invited.
By Barbara Starr
Despite reports of high-level defections of government and military officials, U.S. intelligence sees no signs of significant deterioration of support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by his inner circle, senior U.S. intelligence officials said Friday.
Read also: U.N. envoy to meet with Syria's president
The officials, who would speak only on the condition that their names not be used, said that to date, the defections have been of lower-level officials and those in the military. None of those defections, including the group of military officers who are reported to have defected this week, are close enough to al-Assad to truly make a difference, the senior intelligence officials said.