The Federal Reserve opened a two-day meeting on Tuesday that is expected to end with a signal that interest rates will be held near zero into 2014.

Outside of words, however, the central bank appears unlikely to take any action to prop up the economy, although some officials have raised the prospect that more bond purchases will be needed.

For the first time, the Fed will release policymaker projections for the path of the benchmark federal funds rates at the conclusion of the meeting on Wednesday. It will also lay out views on when the first rate hike should occur.

Also, in what would be a historic shift, it may also announce an agreed target for inflation, which would likely be in the 1.7 percent to 2 percent that the majority of Fed officials have already said is desirable.

Fed officials began their meeting at 10 a.m., a Fed spokesperson said. A policy statement is due at 12:30 p.m. (1730 GMT) on Wednesday, and that will be followed by a news conference by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and the publication of policymakers' quarterly forecasts.

The central bank cut the federal funds rate to near zero in December 2008 and has bought $2.3 trillion in bonds in a further effort to spur stronger economic growth.

The U.S. economy strengthened toward the end of last year, and the unemployment rate dropped to a near three-year low of 8.5 percent in December.

However, the recovery is not expected to retain all of its momentum and Europe's debt crisis still poses a risk.

Policymakers are likely to bide their time in mulling further bond purchases as they look for signs on whether the stronger growth at the end of 2011 was more than a one-quarter wonder.

The Fed has said economic conditions would likely warrant ultra-easy monetary policies at least through mid-2013, but the new rate projections are widely expected to show that view has shifted.

Officials at the central bank may also agree on a statement of longer-run goals and policy strategy that could set out an explicit inflation target, although it is unclear when the Fed would release such a statement.

Adopting an inflation target would cap a long-running campaign for Bernanke, who has for years advocated doing so as a fundamental central banking best practice.

An explicit target could hold down inflation fears if the central bank feels it needs to deliver a further boost to the recovery in the event it wobbles.

(Reporting By Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Neil Stempleman)