Syria's President Bashar al-Assad says Syria and Israel can live side-by-side in peace, accepting each other's existence.

In an interview broadcast Monday by the British Broadcasting Corporation, Mr. Assad said he is ready to hold talks with Israel but that an impartial arbiter is needed to mediate between the two sides.

The Syrian leader expressed doubts the United States is prepared to play this role, saying Washington lacks both the will and the vision to pursue peace in the Middle East.

Mr. Assad's remarks are in sharp contrast with comments he made Sunday, when he said Israel has given up on the Middle East peace process, forcing Syria to remain prepared for war.

Israeli officials denied having plans to attack Syria, and called Mr. Assad's comments a cause for concern.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.