One person who’s happy the Bush era is over: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who in a rare interview with The Guardian says he hopes Washington will act as the “main arbiter” in the stalled Mideast peace process. “There is no substitute for the United States,” Assad says, adding that Damascus is expecting the US to send an ambassador soon—the last was withdrawn in 2005—so dialogue can begin. But what of Obama’s call for countries to “unclench their fist”? That wasn’t directed at Syria, Assad says: “We never clenched our fist. We still talked about peace even during the Israeli aggression in Gaza.” Assad is expecting Senator John Kerry for a visit later this week, and says he hopes General David Petraeus, whose last planned visit to Damascus was blocked by the Bush administration, will come soon to discuss collaboration on Iraq and other issues.