DUBLIN -- Diplomatic efforts to end Syria's civil war moved forward yesterday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joining Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and UN peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi for extraordinary three-way talks that suggested Washington and Moscow might finally unite behind a strategy as the Assad regime weakens.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said intelligence reports raise fears that an increasingly desperate President Bashar Assad is considering using his chemical weapons arsenal, which the United States 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."

On the sidelines of a human rights conference, Clinton met with Lavrov and Brahimi for 40 minutes to look for a strategy the international community could rally around to end the 21-month civil war.

"We have been trying hard to work with Russia to try to stop the bloodshed in Syria and start a political transition for a post-Assad Syrian future," Clinton told reporters.

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In Syria, government forces shelled rebellious suburbs around Damascus Thursday and clashed with rebels in the capital itself and in Aleppo, Syria's largest city.

And NATO advanced its plan to place Patriot missiles and troops along Syria's border with Turkey to protect against potential attacks. Assad's regime blasted the move as "psychological warfare." -- AP