"In order to end the bloodshed and give the Syrian people a chance to meet their long-deferred aspirations, Syria needs new leadership," Kerry said in statement, after UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the talks would be held in Geneva on January 22.

"The conference on January 22 is the best opportunity to implement the Geneva communique and form a new transitional governing body through mutual consent," Kerry added, referring to a 2012 agreement to transfer Syria's leadership.

The US has long said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is brutally seeking to put down an opposition rebellion which erupted in March 2011, has lost all legitimacy to continue to lead his country.

More than 120,000 people have been killed in the conflict and millions displaced, creating a global humanitarian crisis as neighbouring states struggle to accommodate the refugee tide.

Kerry said if a new leadership can be agreed at the Geneva talks early next year it would mark "an important step toward ending the suffering of the Syrian people and the destabilizing impact of this conflict on the region."

But he recognized "that the obstacles on the road to a political solution are many, and we will enter the Geneva conference on Syria with our eyes wide open."

In the coming weeks, the US top diplomat said Washington would work with the United Nations and its partners in preparing the agenda for the talks, as well as the guest list.

The Syrian regime and the opposition will both have "to form their delegations," he added in his statement.

There have been differences over whether Iran, accused of propping up the Assad regime with weapons, money and fighters, should be invited to participate in the talks.

Kerry did not explicitly mention who would be on the guest list, saying only: "Since foreign states have considerable influence on the factions waging war within Syria, they too have an important role to play."

(Agencies)

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