DUBLIN, Ireland -- With the support of the United States, the U.N. special envoy on Syria is mounting a diplomatic push for a brokered agreement that would lead to the ouster of the country's president, Bashar Assad, and the installation of a transitional government.
The envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, convened an unusual three-way meeting Thursday night at a Dublin hotel with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov.
After the 40-minute meeting, Brahimi said his goal was to "put together a peace process" that would build on discussions that the United States and Russia had in June but which quickly collapsed.
Brahimi and senior U.S. and Russian officials plan to meet again in several days to see if they can agree on specifics of a negotiating approach that might end the 20-month conflict, which has killed more than 40,000 Syrians.
With Assad's fortunes looking bleaker and persistent worries that the Syrian leader is considering using his chemical arsenal, the hope on the U.S. side was that the Russians might throw their weight behind Brahimi's effort.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said intelligence reports raise fears that an increasingly desperate Syrian President Bashar Assad is considering using his chemical weapons arsenal -- which the U.S. and Russia agree is unacceptable.
"I think there is no question that we remain very concerned, very concerned," Panetta said, "that, as the opposition advances, in particular in Damascus, that regime might very well consider the use of chemical weapons."
"Events on the ground in Syria are accelerating, and we see that in many different ways," Clinton said before the meeting, alluding to reports on chemical weapons developments. "The pressure against the regime in and around Damascus appears to be increasing."
The United States is in a race to prevent the military developments in Syria from outpacing the nascent arrangements for a political transition. But daunting questions remain, including the possibility that the Russian position has not fundamentally shifted and the absence of any indication that Assad government loyalists and the Syrian opposition are interested in negotiating a transitional arrangement with each other.
The Associated Press contributed to the report.