Syria's Assad says open to dialogue with US - CBS interview

WASHINGTON - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is open to having a dialogue with the United States, but there can be no "pressuring of the sovereignty" of his country, he said in an excerpt of an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" that aired on Thursday.

Asked about recent comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry that Washington would have to negotiate with the Syrian leader to end the conflict there, Assad said: "As principal, in Syria we could say that every dialogue is a positive thing, and we are going to be open to any dialogue with anyone, including the United States, regarding anything based on mutual respect."

While saying there had been no direct communication between Damascus and Washington, Assad, who has been fighting Islamist and other rebels since 2011, added: "Any dialogue is positive, as I said, in principal, of course, without pressuring the sovereignty of Syria."

The United States still wants a negotiated political settlement to Syria's civil war that excludes Assad, US officials said earlier this month after Kerry's comments.

The State Department said later that Kerry was not specifically referring to Assad and that Washington would never bargain with him.

Washington has made clear its top priority in Syria is the fight against Islamic State militants, who have seized large parts of the country as well as parts of Iraq.