Kerry says he'd be willing to negotiate with Syrian President Bashar Assad

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FILE - In this April 4, 2007 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Assad meets with U.S. House speaker Nancy Pelosi at Ash-Shaeb presidential palace in Damascus. Pelosi arrived as the highest ranking US official to visit Syria since 2003 for talks with the Syrian leadership on the strained relations between Syria and the U.S., to convey a peace message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to President Assad, and to discuss Iraq and other regional issues with Syria. Pelosi's visit was criticized by the US administration. American politicians like to pick and choose when they’ll abide by the storied notion that politics should stop at the water's edge, and when to give that idea a kick in the pants. (AP Photo Hussein Malla).


An anti-Syrian government protester waves the Syrian revolutionary flag during a protest to mark the 4th anniversary of the Syrian uprising, at the Martyrs square in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, March 15, 2015. Before the civil war started in March 2011, an estimated 22 million people lived in Syria. More than 3.8 million Syrians have fled their country in the four years since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)


An anti-Syrian government protester holds an Arabic placard that reads: "The freedom Syrian revolution," as he attends a protest to mark the 4th anniversary of the Syrian uprising, at the Martyrs square in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, March 15, 2015. Before the civil war started in March 2011, an estimated 22 million people lived in Syria. More than 3.8 million Syrians have fled their country in the four years since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)


An anti-Syrian government protester waves the revolutionary flag, as he stands on the Lebanese Martyres statue during a protest to mark the 4th anniversary of the Syrian uprising, at the Martyrs square in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, March 15, 2015. Before the civil war started in March 2011, an estimated 22 million people lived in Syria. More than 3.8 million Syrians have fled their country in the four years since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)


An anti-Syrian government protester waves the Syrian revolutionary flag, as she shouts slogans against the Syrian President Bashar Assad, during a protest to mark the 4th anniversary of the Syrian uprising, at the Martyrs square in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, March 15, 2015. Before the civil war started in March 2011, an estimated 22 million people lived in Syria. More than 3.8 million Syrians have fled their country in the four years since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)


FILE - In this March 13, 2015 file photo, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to a meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. In an interview with CBS News, Kerry said the U.S. is pushing for Syrian President Bashar Assad to seriously discuss a transition strategy to quell the Arab country's four-year civil war. (AP Photo/Brian Snyder, Pool, File)


SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he would be willing to talk with Syrian President Bashar Assad to help broker a political resolution to the country's civil war.

Kerry said in an interview with CBS News that the U.S. is pushing for Assad to seriously discuss a transition strategy to help end Syria's four-year conflict, which has killed more than 220,000 people, given rise to the Islamic State group and destabilized the wider Middle East.

"We have to negotiate in the end," Kerry said. "What we're pushing for is to get him to come and do that, and it may require that there be increased pressure on him of various kinds."

The Obama administration has long pushed for a political settlement to the Syrian crisis, and helped bring the Assad government and the Western-backed opposition to the negotiating table in early 2014.

Those talks collapsed without making any headway, however, and there has been no serious effort as of yet to revive them.

"We've made it very clear to people that we are looking at increased steps that can help bring about that pressure," Kerry said, without elaborating on what those steps might be.

Syria's state news agency reported Kerry's comments in full. It also said Damascus has called for a political solution before, and accused the U.S. of undermining such efforts, militarizing the conflict and supporting terrorists.

The U.S. has provided financial support to the opposition Syrian National Coalition, and non-lethal assistance to mainstream armed rebel groups that are opposed to Assad.

Since the beginning of the conflict, the Syrian government repeatedly and publicly agreed to international peace efforts while simultaneously ignoring the commitments it has made under them.

It also has refused to discuss any proposal to usher Assad out of power.

Assad's Western-backed opponents, for their part, maintain that Assad can have no role in the country's future, and that any negotiated settlement must be based on the so-called Geneva roadmap, which envisions a political transition in Syria toward democracy by the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers.

The latest attempt to bring the sides together took place in January in Moscow, but the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition shunned the meeting because it did not aim to create a transitional government and remove Assad.

The U.S. joined talks in Switzerland with Assad's foreign minister and members of the U.S.-backed moderate Syrian opposition a year ago, but those talks also failed when Assad's representatives refused to discuss how to create a transition government.

"Everybody agrees there is no military solution; there's only a political solution," Kerry said. "But to get the Assad regime to negotiate, we're going to have to make it clear to him that there is a determination by everybody to seek that political outcome and change his calculation about negotiating. That's underway right now."

Kerry provided no additional details.

He spoke with CBS before leaving Egypt for Lausanne, where he was to resume negotiations with Iran on that country's nuclear program.


Associated Press writer Ryan Lucas in Beirut contributed to this report.

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