America is preparing for the first time to give direct assistance to rebel forces fighting to overthrow the Syrian regime.
The proposal is an attempt to end the country's bloody two-year civil war.
John Kerry, the new US secretary of state, signalled on Wednesday that Washington was considering sending financial aid and equipment such as armoured vehicles, body armour and night vision goggles to Syria's opposition council.
However, there was no indication that weapons would be supplied.
"We are examining and developing ways to accelerate the transition the Syrian people seek and deserve," Kerry said in Paris, after meeting Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister.
Kerry spoke as senior international diplomats prepared to meet in Rome today to discuss plans to break the deadlock in a conflict that is estimated to have killed about 70,000 people.
Rebel activists said the proposal fell far short of the kind of concerted intervention they say is needed to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
The Free Syrian Army said the Americans had been discussing increasing support for the rebels, spurred by fears that the Jihadist Jabhat al-Nusra group was gaining the upper hand in the revolution
"The Americans are now more open to the idea of arming the revolution," said Louay al-Mokdad, a spokesman for the rebel army. "They know that if they do nothing it is Jabhat who will have more control. This new support means the FSA will be more organised and stronger; it will help us to control the ground."
Rebels in the besieged city of Homs said the promises were "too little, too late".
In Washington, activists who have lobbied for US support said the latest promises fell well short of the action needed to topple Assad and ensure moderate rebel groups won the day.
Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian dissident, said: "Bulletproof vests and night vision goggles will help you become a more effective fighter, but they will not protect you from MiGs, tanks and Scuds, or enable you to destroy them."