CHARLES GIBSON: It was two weeks ago today in Washington that Israel and the PLO signed their historic peace agreement, ending decades of hostility and establishing Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and Jericho. Signing for Israel was Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. The foreign minister is back in the United States this week to address the United Nations, and he joins us here this morning.

Nice to have you back with us again.


MS. LUNDEN: In the two weeks since the signing, much has been accomplished. You won approval of the Knesset for the accord, Israel has worked out a framework for peace with Jordan and yet, of course, great difficulties, as we know, lie ahead, but what do you see as the single most important difficulty that has to be worked out?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: There are two, one of an immediate nature, namely to translate the agreement into a new reality, a reality which is unprecedented and nobody is used or trained for it, and the second is to continue and build the foundations of a new Middle East.

MS. LUNDEN: When you say to translate, are you also including in that getting the followers to go along with what you have now set out and, if so, who do you see as the biggest opposition, the hard liners in Israel or the hard liners in the Palestinians’ Hamas?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: We have two sorts of problems. One is the hard liners who oppose it, but also the doubts in the hearts of many people, and we have to overcome both.

For me, for example, the worries of the people are more of a concern than the opposition of the parties. I would like very much to see our people be reassured that we are going the right direction and they do not have the slightest doubt that this is the right direction.

MS. LUNDEN: And, of course, there are always a lot of rumors going around, rumors in Israel that perhaps Prime Minister Rabin has met with Jordan’s King Hussein I guess over the last day or so. Do you know if that’s true?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: No. Rumors are so rich and many in the Middle East that we just deny them. It calls for a full-time job. I’m busy on other issues.

MS. LUNDEN: Meeting, though, with Syria, coming to some kind of accord with them, of course, very important. Do you foresee that?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: Yes, I foresee an accord with the Syrians, but not immediately. I think the Syrians expect the rest of the world to adopt their own concepts of how to negotiate. I mean, ask a simple person or an experienced leader if he can explain why should the president of Syria refuse to meet the prime minister of Israel? Why should the foreign minister of Syria be ashamed or be superior in order to refuse to meet the foreign minister of Israel?

We have to negotiate in two ways: Formally and guard our tongues, and informally and open our minds. Otherwise, we shall not reach an agreement.

MS. LUNDEN: I mean, you say guard your tongues. Ever since signing the treaty, PLO Chairman Arafat has insisted to his people that the peace agreement is only, quote, ‘a first step to an autonomous Palestinian state.’ How real a possibility is that?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: I don’t believe it’s a real possibility, not because of Israeli opposition or just Israeli opposition, but because in relation to the real situation in the Middle East, you know, we have a triangle of the Jordanians, the Palestinians, and the Israelis. Unless we should properly organize the relations between the three of us, we may again face new confrontation, and from an Arab standpoint, the most important point is to bring an understanding between the Jordanians and the Palestinians. Otherwise, they may compete and, God forbid, even fight.

We want a peace all over and all around, and for that reason, I believe, the solution is a Jordanian-Palestinian framework, a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.

MS. LUNDEN: Well, thinking of unrealistic expectations, Chairman Arafat also continues to insist that Palestinians will someday regain East Jerusalem. Is there room for negotiation on that?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: We never agreed to restrict the right of every person to dream whatever he wants. If he dreams that way, it is his right to do so, but I can say clearly that Jerusalem will remain united as the capital of Israel.

When even the Arabs ruled Palestine, Jerusalem was never their capital. In the long history of the Jewish people, we have never had a capital but Jerusalem. That is our own capital, and for them, this is their never-never capital. So I believe Jerusalem will remain united.

MS. LUNDEN: What role do you want us to play, the U.S.?

FOREIGN MIN. PERES: Look, let me say something in a good sense. The United States is a wonderful country. You’re so strong and you don’t want from anybody anything. You have so many problems, and you don’t turn your back on the problems of others. You’re extremely busy, and you have always time to try and improve the state of our times, of our world. I have deep respect for your country and for your people. I never took it that you’re so pragmatic and realistic. You are quite generous.

And the United States has today the only mechanism to contribute to peace in the world and other places. They don’t know any other power today. You know, we live in a world with a single parent. It’s quite complicated, but the single parent is really interested in bringing peace, in building bridges, and make people understand better each other and to see the dangers as well as the opportunities that all of us are facing.

MS. LUNDEN: And on that note, that’s a good place to end. Nice to have you with us.