MOSCOW – US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Moscow on Thursday to see if President Vladimir Putin can be convinced to support an end to Bashar al-Assad’s rule in Syria. Kerry met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and was later to head to the Kremlin for talks with the Russian leader and sound him out on the crises in Syria and Ukraine.The top US diplomat said this week’s bomb attacks in Brussels demonstrated that countries must come together to conquer the extremist threat wherever it may strike. “I know that many people are very hopeful, Sergei,” Kerry said, in brief remarks before the two men held closed-door talks at a foreign ministry conference centre in Moscow.“Our counterparts, whom you and I have both talked to in the last days, are hopeful that these meetings here in Moscow today have an ability to be able to further define and chart the road ahead so that we can bring this conflict in Syria to a close as fast as possible,” he added. Lavrov told Kerry that diplomatic efforts had been focused on creating a “balance of interests” among all sides involved in the Syrian crisis, including Moscow and Washington.But US officials fear the Syrian opposition will drop out of UN-mediated peace talks in Geneva unless Russia’s ally Assad agrees to step down as part of a political transition. Putin has stood by Assad, and even sent Russian warplanes to protect his regime and strike the Islamic State militant group, which has seized territory in the east of the country.But Moscow recently announced a partial withdrawal of its forces from Syria, creating what Washington believes is an opportunity to press for a change of stance on the regime. “What we’re looking for, and what we’ve been looking for, for a long time is how are we going to transition away from Assad’s leadership,” a senior US official told reporters.