TODAY   |  February 28, 2013

US to offer direct assistance to Syrian rebels

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Syrian opposition leaders today and has announced the U.S. will supply Syrian rebels with non-lethal aid. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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>> this is not the only major news to come out of rome this morning. secretary of state john kerry is here as well meeting with syrian opposition leaders and richard angle is covering the talks and we're hearing a real change in u.s. policy this morning. tell us about it.

>> i'm not sure if it's a real change . the state department is billing it as a real change because secretary kerry wants to show he's taking the issue of syria more seriously and coming with new ideas and that's the way it's being presented to the american press.

>> the u.s. saying it will provide non-lethal aid to the opposition. describ describe.

>> they're are doing that. you're seeing more lethal aid. the united states is providing communication, mostly radios, about $50 million worth. today, secretary kerry said there'll be another $60 million, another toe in the water, if you will, towards the opposition, to provide them with food, to provide them with money to help government govern liberated areas. it's significant because when you put another toe in the water, there's a possibility that you're going to jump in with the full body. that's not what we're seeing right now. non- military aid , non-lethal aid, a little more.

>> there has always been some reluctance on the part of the administration, as you said, to go too deeply in this conflict in syria not knowing who the opposition is and concern there may be al qaeda among the opposition fighters. what would say to that?

>> there certainly are al qaeda among the opposition fighters and an al qaeda sympathetic group. you will have rebels liberate or partially liberate an area and some of these radical groups will establish governance there and the united states is telling the rebels, we want to stop that. we don't want that to happen. but then wasn't providing any funds to actually do it. now, a relatively small amount, $60 million, sounds like a lot. in a war-time economy doesn't go that far. the u.s. is at least putting some real beef on the table saying, okay, we don't want the extremists to totally run these lib ber rated areas and here's some money for the opposition to help them do that.

>> evolution.

>> evolution is a better way