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Assad says Syria open to dialogue with United States

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said any talks with the United States would have to be based on mutual respect. Some 440,000 people in Syria are living under siege conditions, according to the UN.

In an interview with US television network CBS on Thursday, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he is open to dialogue with the United States.

"But as principal, in Syria we could say that every dialogue is a positive thing," he told television journalist Charlie Rose, in excerpts of an interview which is to be aired Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes" program.

Assad also said such a dialogue needs to be based on "mutual respect." When he was asked about relations between Syria and the United States, Assad said there was no direct communication.

UN officials warn of about the high number of people besieged

Meanwhile, the UN has more than doubled its estimate of Syrian who living in besieged areas to 440,000. They risk death by starvation, dehydration and lack of medical care.

On Thursday the UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos announced the new number while briefing the Security Council on what she called the "breathtaking levels of savagery" that continue as Syria's civil war enters its fifth year.

US: Assad won't be part of peace talks

State Department officials recently said Assad will "never" be part of a negotiation to end the Syrian conflict, but that officials from his government could be part of the process.

US Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to suggest in a CBS television interview mid-March that Washington would have to talk with Assad eventually if peace was to be forged. Kerry was later criticized by the Syrian opposition for offering the suggestion.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki later remarked that Kerry was referring to representatives of the Assad regime, and not the president himself.

Syria's conflict started in March 2011 with protests against Assad. More than 220,000 people have been killed and almost 4 million have fled the country since then.

The Islamic State (IS) has seized parts of the north and east of the country.

ra/sms (AFP, AP)

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