Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was quoted as saying on Wednesday he expected U.S. President Barack Obama to disparch an ambassador to Syria soon to make good on a dialogue offer to countries previously shunned by the Bush administration.
Assad said in an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper he hoped for a new relationship with the United States and that Washington would act as the "main arbiter" in the stalled Middle East peace process. "An ambassador is important," said Assad.
"What we have heard from them -- Obama, (Secretary of State Hillary) Clinton and others -- is positive," noted the Syrian leader. "We are still in the period of gestures and signals. There is nothing real yet."
On the Middle East peace process to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Assad said: "There is no substitute for the United States (as the main arbiter)." Assad was pessimistic about the prospects for brokering a lasting peace with the incoming Israeli administration. "Betting on the Israeli government is a waste of time," he said. But peace talks, he predicted, would resume eventually.
He said he would welcome a visit to Damascus by General David Petraeus, head of the U.S. military's central command, to discuss collaboration over Iraq and other issues. "We would like to have dialogue with the U.S. administration. We would like to see (Petraeus) here in Syria," said Assad.
Assad said Washington could not afford to ignore Syria. "We are a player in the region. If you want to talk about peace, you can't advance without Syria," he said.