In an interview with The Guardian published on Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was pessimistic about the prospects of reaching a lasting peace agreement with the incoming Israeli government, but predicted that the peace talks would resume eventually. "Betting on the Israeli government is a waste of time," Assad was quoted as saying. The Syrian president noted that although Operation Cast Lead had implications for the prospect of peace talks with Israel, he was confident the negotiations would restart. "It will make it harder, but in the end we will return to talks," he reportedly said. Assad stressed that in its quest to achieve peace in the Middle East, the US could not afford to ignore his country. "We are a player in the region. If you want to talk about peace, you can't advance without Syria." He went on to express hope that Washington would act as the "main arbiter" in the Middle East peace process. "There is no substitute for the United States," Assad said in the interview. Regarding Iran, Assad urged the US administration and Europe to hold diplomatic talks with Teheran and not to pin false hopes for change on the Islamic Republic's presidential elections set for the summer. "I would say to Obama and the Europeans: 'Don't waste your time on this. Go and make dialogue.' The only way is to go for direct engagement," Assad was quoted as saying. Referring to US President Barack Obama's call for countries to "unclench their fists" , the Syrian president said he believed Obama had been referring to Iran. "We never clenched our fist. We still talked about peace even during the Israeli aggression in Gaza," Assad reportedly declared.