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US diplomats say Assad showing new strength against fractured opposition, but must resign

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In this photo, which AP obtained from Syrian official news agency SANA and which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, President Bashar Assad gestures as he speaks during an interview with Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen TV, at the presidential palace in Damascus, Syria, Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Syria’s president said Monday that the factors that would allow a landmark conference aimed at ending the country’s civil war do not yet exist, throwing further doubt on international efforts to hold peace talks that have already been repeatedly delayed. (AP Photo/SANA) (The Associated Press)

Violent extremists who seek to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad (bah-SHAR' AH'-sahd) may instead have hurt negotiations to replace him.

That's frustrating Western diplomats who continue to push for Assad's ouster as a necessary part of a peace agreement in the Mideast nation's bloody civil war.

Bolstered by infighting among Syrian opposition groups — including some linked to al-Qaida — U.S. officials say Assad has a stronger grasp on power now than he did just months ago.

How to persuade Assad to step down will be part of the focus Tuesday at a London meeting of 11 nations from the West and Mideast seeking a negotiated settlement to the war.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Assad's recent gains do not assure his future in a new government.