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Biden to meet abroad with key figures in Syrian conflict

Days after Israel’s air strike on Syria prompted a new round of fiery rhetoric from Hezbollah and objections from Russia, Vice President Biden will meet with key figures in the Syrian conflict while visiting Europe this week, senior White House officials said Thursday.

Biden will attend the 49th Munich Security Conference Saturday, where he will have bilateral meetings with the United Nations envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, as well as the head of the Syrian Opposition Council, Moaz al-Khatib. But White House officials suggested the meeting would not result in any additional U.S. involvement in the conflict beyond the humanitarian assistance it has been providing.
“I think the vice president, in his meetings with the leadership of the Syrian opposition as well as other international partners, is going to be discussing how we can continue to provide humanitarian assistance,” said Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, on a conference call with reporters previewing the visit.

Biden will also talk with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov -- a meeting that will take place just days after Russia rebuked Israel for launching a military strike in Syria.

And in the meeting with Lavrov, Rhodes said Biden will stress that it is “very important for the Russians to put their full weight into political transition in Syria.”

The conversation will also likely touch on Russia’s human-rights record, which came to a head when the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions and denies visas to Russians accused of human rights abuses and corruption. 

Passage of the act set off a series of retaliatory actions from both the Russian and U.S. governments that could complicate U.S. efforts to “reset” the countries’ relationship.

“We have real differences, and we don't hide them,” said Tony Blinken, Biden’s national security adviser. “But going forward, there is a real potential not only to work through those differences, but to continue the agenda that we set over the past four years.”

In addition to Biden's stop in Germany, where he will meet one-on-one with Chancellor Angela Merkel, the vice president also will be meeting with the heads of France and the United Kingdom. Syria will figure into all of those discussions, said Blinken, who will soon move roles to serve as the president’s deputy national security adviser.