The Obama administration pursued secret communications with elements of Syria’s regime over several years in a failed attempt to limit violence and get President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power, according to U.S. and Arab officials.

Early on, the U.S. looked for cracks in the regime it could exploit to encourage a military coup, but found few.

The efforts reflect how President Barack Obama’s administration has grappled to understand and interact with an opaque Middle East dictatorship run for 45 years by the Assad family. […]