Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said in an interview that Syria is “pretty close” to civil war but did not suggest any new policy initiatives to address the situation.

“It certainly has the feel of [a civil war],” said Kerry, who just returned from an 11-day trip around the Middle East.

He told The Cable that the escalating violence in Syria was the leading topic of discussion in his meetings with regional officials. He did not suggest any new actions, such as directly aiding the opposition or establishing humanitarian safe zones near the border.

“I think we’ve got to work with a lot of allies,” he said. “The Arab League and the Gulf [Cooperation] Council are taking significant initiatives with respect to it, and I think we really need to consult with them and see step by step what’s appropriate.”

Kerry’s comments differed from those of Middle East subcommittee chairman Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), who said in a separate interview that the Arab League isn’t doing all it can and that the United States should do more.

“I would hope the Arab League can be more constructive and more effective than they have been to date,” Casey said. “I think it was a debacle sending in folks that weren’t able to convey a sense of legitimacy or competence in terms of putting a team on the ground to monitor.”

Tauscher to part-time post

Following her successful battle with esophageal cancer, Ellen Tauscher will resign as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security in early February, State Department officials said Wednesday. She will take a newly created position called the “special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense,” with fewer daily responsibilities.

Tauscher will be working part time, using her new flexibility to work on cancer patient advocacy and pursuing projects outside of government. Officials said that after 13 years in Congress and three years in the administration, she decided that the time had come for her to take a breather and focus on other interests.

Rose Gottemoeller , the assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance, is expected to be named as Tauscher’s replacement, at least for the rest of the year, several State Department officials said. There’s no expectation that the Senate will be able to confirm any arms control officials before the November presidential election.

In her new special envoy role, Tauscher will report directly to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and will maintain control of several specific projects on which she has been working. She will remain the lead official on the president’s bilateral commission on strategic stability with Russia, and will keep her role as lead negotiator for a missile defense cooperation agreement with Russia.

Tauscher also will maintain her role overseeing the implementation of the administration’s missile defense program in Europe, known as the Phased Adaptive Approach, which was one of her key issues when she led the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee.

Officials said that Tauscher’s work on cancer issues with Duke University, where she was treated, will focus on the standardization of care for cancer patients. Her last day as undersecretary will be Feb. 6.

Xi Jinping to visit U.S.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping is coming to Washington to meet with Vice President Biden on Valentine’s Day, as President Obama’s administration tries to romance the presumed next leader of China.

Xi’s visit will reciprocate Biden’s trip to China in August. The White House statement announcing the Feb. 14 visit said that Xi will meet with Obama, Biden and other senior administration officials “to discuss a broad range of bilateral, regional and global issues.”

Xi will also travel to Iowa and California. He is widely expected to succeed President Hu Jintao later this year.