GENEVA — The Obama administration moved Tuesday to boost contacts with foes of Syrian President Bashar Assad, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a rare meeting with opposition figures and the top U.S. envoy to Syria returned to Damascus after a six-week absence.

Amid reports of a new surge in violence that the U.N. says has killed more than 4,000 people since an uprising against Assad erupted in March, Clinton told Syrian pro-reform activists in Geneva that she wanted to hear their plans to establish a new democratic government if they are successful in ousting Assad.

The invitation was a step short of endorsement, but a sign the U.S. wants to work closely with those who might assume leadership roles. lence in Syria.