"We are a player in the region. If you want to talk about peace, you can't advance without Syria," Assad said.
He added that he expects Obama to honor his commitment to hold dialogue with states blacklisted by the Bush administration, and that he wanted the US to be the "main arbiter" in the Middle East peace process. "There is no substitute for the United States," Assad said.
Assad was pessimistic about future peace talks with Israel. "Betting on the Israeli government is a waste of time," he said. But he predicted the talks would eventually take place despite difficulties.
Israel's offensive in Gaza "will make it harder, but in the end we will return to talks," he said.
Regarding Obama's call for certain states to "unclench their fists" Assad said he believes the new president was referring to Iran. "We never clenched our fist," he said. "We still talked about peace even during the Israeli aggression in Gaza."
The US is currently debating whether to send a diplomat to Damascus. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, is scheduled to visit the Syrian capital later this week to meet with Assad. He has said he supports the decision to send an ambassador.
The US removed its diplomatic presence from Syria in 2005 following the murder of former prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri.
"An ambassador is important," Assad said. "Sending these delegations is important. This number of congressmen coming to Syria is a good gesture. It shows that this administration wants to see dialogue with Syria. What we have heard from them – Obama, Clinton and others – is positive."
However, he said, "We are still in the period of gestures and signals. There is nothing real yet."