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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe on Dec. 6. She met on the sidelines of the conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the international envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.
Diplomats were trying to put U.N. peace efforts in Syria back on track as concern grew that Syria might use chemical weapons against its own people. The news also comes amid a heightened humanitarian crisis, with millions of people unable to get needed food aid because of the worsening security situation.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and international Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi in Dublin in an attempt to stop the violence and plan a political transition toward a post-Assad Syria.
The meeting, Brahimi said, didn’t result in any “sensational decisions,” but Clinton and Lavrov agreed the Syria crisis demanded "creative ways” to resolve the bloody civil war.
“We haven't taken any sensational decisions," Brahimi said. “But I think we have agreed that the situation is bad and we have agreed that we must continue to work together to see how we can find creative ways of bringing this problem under control and hopefully starting to solve it.”
Ahead of the meeting, Clinton said the parties were seeking to start a political transition away from the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, though Brahimi, in his post-meeting remarks, didn’t elaborate on specifics of the dialogue.
"We have been trying hard to work with Russia to stop the bloodshed in Syria and start a political transition towards a post-Assad Syrian future and very much support what Lakhdar Brahimi is trying to do," Clinton told reporters.
The world is watching Syria very closely, worried that a desperate Bashir al-Assad might use his chemical weapons against his own people or his neighbors. The U.S. and other nations have warned Assad against launching a chemical attack, but they consider a preemptive strike against Assad's weapons to be high-risk. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.
Clinton: Events 'accelerating'
“Events on the ground in Syria are accelerating and we see that in many different ways -- the pressure against the regime in and around Damascus seems to be increasing,” Clinton said.
Meanwhile, the White House reiterated what President Barack Obama had said earlier that Assad would be making a “tragic mistake” if Syria used chemical weapons or failed to secure them.
“I can tell you that the president was very clear when he said that if the Assad regime makes the tragic mistake of using chemical weapons or fails to meet its obligation to secure them, there will be consequences,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “And the regime will be held accountable.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta also warned Thursday that intelligence about Syrian chemical weapons "raises serious concerns" and that there would be consequences if the weapons were deployed.
Neither the White House nor the Pentagon has elaborated on what those consequences might be or how the regime would be held accountable.
Panetta’s comments came a day after U.S. officials told NBC News that the Syrian military had loaded the precursor chemicals for sarin, a deadly nerve gas, into aerial bombs that could be dropped from dozens of fighter-bombers.
A look back at the violence that has overtaken the country.
Assad's deputy foreign minister said Thursday that Western powers were whipping up fears of a fateful move to the use of chemical weapons in Syria's civil war as a "pretext for intervention," Reuters reported.
A Western diplomatic source told Reuters that anything out of the Dublin meeting, which took place on the sidelines of an international conference, would be expected to be based on a Geneva agreement reached in June.
The Geneva Declaration called for a transitional administration but did not specify what role, if any, Assad would have. Rebels have made advances across Syria in recent weeks, despite punishing air raids, and have stepped up fighting outside Damascus, where fighting raged on Wednesday in an arc of suburbs on the capital's eastern outskirts.
Assad's family has ruled Syria for 42 years and the Syrian president has vowed to fight to the death in a conflict that has killed an estimated 38,000 people and risks sucking in other countries.
The United States and its allies want Assad to step down but are at odds with China and Russia over what role he should have in the process and whether the U.N. Security Council should pass tough measures to punish non-compliance by the Assad government.
Millions may go hungry
Worsening security in Syria also meant aid groups are unable to reach a million people who may be going hungry as winter closes in, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Thursday.
The United Nations said this week it would suspend aid operations in Syria as a 20-month civil war tips the country further into anarchy and more civilians get caught in the violence.
But Ertharin Cousin of the WFP said only non-essential U.N. administrative staff had pulled out. Her U.N. agency would continue its work for now and "will keep as many staff in Syria as we can for as long as we can."
She said 2.5 million people needed help and the WFP had reached 1.5 million of them in November, up from 250,000 in April. One major effort as the weather turned colder was to distribute blankets and fuel for cooking and heating.
"Security... doesn't exist," she told Reuters in an interview. She said the WFP lacked access and equipment and "it has been estimated that the numbers (needing help in coming months) can go up to 4 million".
NBC News' Catherine Chomiak, Jim Miklaswzewski and Jeff Black and Reuters contributed to this report.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed President Obama's recent vow to take action if Syrian President Bashar Assad uses chemical weapons during the ongoing clashes within his country. U.S. officials are also concerned about the rising influence of extremist groups within Syria. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.
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