"What we started will not stop," he said, standing at a lectern on stage at the regal Opera House in central Damascus - a sign by the besieged leader that he sees no need to hide or compromise even with the violent civil war closing in on his seat of power in the capital.
The theater was packed with his supporters, who interrupted the speech with applause, cheers, and occasional fist-waving chants.
The overtures that Assad offered - a national reconciliation conference, elections, and a new constitution - were reminiscent of symbolic changes and concessions offered previously in the uprising that began in March 2011. Those were rejected at the time as too little, too late.
The government last year adopted a constitution that theoretically allows political parties to compete with Assad's ruling Baath Party. It carried out parliamentary elections that were boycotted by his opponents.
Assad demanded that regional and Western countries must stop funding and arming the rebels trying to overthrow him.
"We never rejected a political solution . . . but with whom should we talk? With those who have an extremist ideology, who only understand the language of terrorism? "Or should we with negotiate puppets whom the West brought?" he asked.
As in previous speeches and interviews, he clung to the view that the crisis was a foreign-backed plot and not an uprising against him and his family's decades-long rule.
He stressed the presence of religious extremists among those fighting in Syria, calling them "terrorists who carry the ideology of al-Qaeda" and "servants who know nothing but the language of slaughter."
Although he put up a defiant front, Assad laid out the grim reality of the violence, and he spoke in front of a collage of photos of what appeared to be Syrians killed in the fighting.
"We are now in a state of war in every sense of the word," Assad said, "a war that targets Syria using a handful of Syrians and many foreigners. It is a war to defend the nation."
The speech came amid stepped-up international efforts for a peaceful way out of the Syrian conflict.
U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met Assad last month to push for a peace plan for Syria based on a plan first presented in June at an international conference in Geneva. The proposal calls for an open-ended cease-fire and the formation of a transitional government until new elections can be held and a new constitution drafted.
The opposition swiftly rejected Assad's proposals. Those fighting to topple the regime have repeatedly said they will accept nothing less than his departure, dismissing any kind of settlement that leaves him in the picture.
"It is an excellent initiative that is only missing one crucial thing: His resignation," said Kamal Labwani, a veteran dissident and member of the opposition's Syrian National Coalition umbrella group.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement that Assad's speech was "yet another attempt by the regime to cling to power and does nothing to advance the Syrian people's goal of a political transition."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the speech "beyond hypocritical." In a message posted on his official Twitter feed, Hague said "empty promises of reform fool no one."
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton's office said in a statement that the bloc will "look carefully if there is anything new in the speech, but we maintain our position that Assad has to step aside and allow for a political transition."
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey, a former Syrian ally, said the speech was filled with "empty promises" by a leader out of touch with the Syrian people.
Observers said the speech signaled the violence would continue indefinitely.