Fifteen months into anti-government fighting that's killed at least 9,000 people, Assad spoke for 70 minutes and defended the use of the military to put down dissenters.
"At this time, we are facing a war from abroad," he said. "Dealing with it is different from dealing with people from inside."
Assad's regime has come under increasing pressure from the international community, particularly after last month's so-called Houla massacre in which more than 100 residents of a village in rebel-controlled territory were killed.
Russia Sunday tried to head off a U.N. condemnation of Assad over the Houla incident. The Foreign Ministry said in a written statement the condemnation was outside the U.N. mandate and was a rush to judgment that would open a door to military intervention in Syria, the RIA Novosti news agency said.
"The attempts by some countries to name the culprits without waiting for the findings of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria regarding the Houla events and therefore exert pressure on the U.N. Security Council, and also exploit the tragedy in their own interests and foil the implementation of the plan of the U.N. and special envoy Kofi Annan, cause very serious concerns," the statement said.
Assad did not name any of the alleged outside agitators in his first public speech since January, CNN said. Regardless, he said there would be forgiveness if opposition groups stopped fighting.
"I encourage all of those who are hesitant to drop their weapons at once, and the government will not seek revenge now or later," Assad said. "We forgave others who stood against us in the past."
During his speech, heavy government shelling hit the city of Homs, a hotbed held by the opposition, CNN said.
Qatar Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said Saturday the United Nations should alter its failing peace initiative to allow for U.N. military intervention, Qatar's news agency reported.