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Sec'y of State Kerry says US, allies ready to step aid to Syrian opposition

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, speaks during a joint news conference with his Jordanian counterpart, Nasser Judeh, right, in Amman Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Secretary of State John Kerry says the United States and its Arab and European allies will step up their support for Syria’s opposition to help them “fight for the freedom of their country” if President Bashar Assad’s regime doesn’t engage in peace talks in good faith. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon) (The Associated Press)

The United States and its Arab and European allies will step up their support for Syria's opposition to help them "fight for the freedom of their country" if President Bashar Assad's regime doesn't engage in peace talks in good faith, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry vowed Wednesday.

Kerry allowed that President Barack Obama won't send American troops to Syria. But he made clear that more aid to the rebels would be coming if the effort fails.

"In the event that we can't find that way forward, in the event that the Assad regime is unwilling to negotiate Geneva in good faith, we will also talk about our continued support, growing support for opposition in order to permit them to continue to fight for the freedom of their country," Kerry said, speaking to reporters ahead of a June conference in Jordan dedicated to finding strategies to end Syria's two-year civil war based on a framework that would install a transitional government.

Obama "has also made it clear that he intends to support the broad-based opposition, and he has taken no options off table with respect to how that support may be provided, or what kind of support that might be," the secretary told reporters at news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

Kerry also warned Iran and the militant Hezbollah movement to stop providing assistance to Assad, saying such activity "perpetuates the regime's campaign of terror against its own people."

"We have to hope that Bashar Assad and his regime will understand the meaning of that and the Iranians and others will understand the meaning of that," Kerry said. "The president will keep those options available to him short of American forces on ground."

To that end, an administration official in Washington said the White House would soon notify Congress about an expanded package of non-lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels.

Details of the aid package are still being finalized, according to the official, who was not authorized to discuss the expanded aid publicly and insisted on anonymity. But, the package is likely to include vehicles and communications gear, the official said. It is not expected to include night vision goggles or body armor, underscoring the cautious approach the U.S. has taken regarding military-style assistance to the opposition.

At the news conference Kerry and Judeh both stressed that the goal is to get the Syrian government and opposition into political transition talks that could begin as early as next month in Geneva.

Without that, violence will continue and the death toll from the conflict will continue to rise.

"Let's assume there is no Geneva 2," Kerry said. "Let's assume we don't come together as community of nations to try to find a peaceful process. What will happen? What will happen is an absolute guarantee that violence will continue and the world will be standing on the sidelines doing nothing constructive to try to end that violence. That's unacceptable."

The comments came a day after a Senate panel voted to provide weapons to the rebels, the first time American lawmakers have endorsed the aggressive U.S. military step of arming the opposition.

With a degree of trepidation, the Foreign Relations Committee voted 15-3 for a bill that would provide lethal assistance and military training to vetted rebel groups, and would slap sanctions on anyone — such as Iran or Russia — who sells oil or transfers arms to the Assad regime. The measure would also establish a $250 million fund to aid in the transition if and when Assad falls.

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AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.

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