Relations between France and Syria have been warming since al-Assad made a landmark visit to Paris last year for Bastille Day celebrations and Sarkozy visited Damascus two months later in September 2008.

'Weak link'

But the Syrian leader said that "we haven't yet reached a revival of trust between Syria and the United States," and called on Barack Obama, the US president, to do more for the stalled Middle East peace process.

"What President Obama said about peace was a good thing. We agree with him on the principles, but... what is the plan of action? The [peace process] sponsor must come up with a plan of action," he said.

Le Figaro quoted al-Assad as saying: "The weak point - it's the American sponsor."

The Syrian president also repeated his position that Damascus must review a partnership agreement with the European Union, which had been due to be signed in October, calling on the bloc to have "more political independence".

"The Europeans have turned completely towards the United States, to Syria's detriment. A partner must be a friend and we haven't noticed that from Europe these last years," he said.

Damascus and the EU first drew up the draft partnership pact in 2004, but it was never signed by European countries, amid concerns by some nations of human rights abuses in Syria.

The Netherlands in particular demanded a clause allowing for the suspension of the deal in the event of proven rights abuses.