MR. RANDALL: I know you’ll be briefed sometime later by U.S. officials on the Assad-Clinton meeting in Geneva, but let’s talk about what we have heard so far. Mr. Clinton told a news conference today he had gotten from Hafez el-Assad a clear, forthright, very important commitment toward normal, peaceful relations with Israel. Mr. Assad used the same words. Are you reassured by this?

FOR. MIN. PERES: Well, I would say that the general air is promising, but its specifics are not clear. When you say normal and peaceful relations, we still don’t know what is behind it. Does this include diplomatic relations, open borders, trade relations? We would like very much to know what does President Assad mean by this definition.

MR. RANDALL: Mr. Clinton was asked at that news conference, by the way, about just that subject. He was asked if President Assad meant open borders, trade, embassies. And Mr. Clinton said the short answer is yes. If that is the case, is that the kind of breakthrough Israel has been calling for?

FOR. MIN. PERES: Well, the short answer, yes, is promising, but still not specific. And I think the president says that the two countries, the two parties, will have to make a supreme effort and very difficult decisions in order to arrive at that point. Again, I welcome the effort by President Clinton to open the road to peace between Syria and ourselves. Clearly we would like to have peace with Syria. But then it must be clear and loud and specific, both on the issue of peace and security arrangements between the Syrians and ourselves. So we are waiting anxiously to see the translation of these general expressions of goodwill into a more specific commitment which is so essential to make the relations a real one and a promising one.

MR. RANDALL: Mr. Peres, if it turns out that the Syrians do, in fact, adopt Israel’s idea for normal, peaceful relations, what then is Israel willing to do as far as a withdrawal of the Golan Heights? Do you leave entirely?

FOR. MIN. PERES: Well, then we have to go to the second issue, which is security. You know, the reason for us being on the Golan Heights is neither religious nor historic, but really strategic. We are there because we were attacked three times from the Golan Heights, and we want to be sure that it will not repeat itself for a fourth time. So we have to go into the security arrangements. I mean, for us it’s a matter of death and life, if you want, of security. And if we can reach an agreement on those two issues, peace and security, I believe Israel will be very much forthcoming on the issue of withdrawal.

MR. RANDALL: Is this the kind of a situation where Israel will send its negotiators to Washington for a new round of talks with the Syrians beginning the week of the 24th, I believe and simply say, ‘Okay, spell out what you mean’ ?

FOR. MIN. PERES: The answer is yes. We shall send our negotiator to Washington the 24th of this month. So again I believe that even the way of negotiating should be broadened and more varied. It must comprise different levels. It must include open negotiations and informal negotiations because, as we know from experience, to negotiate is quite a demanding occasion. We are ready. We welcome this occasion by the end of the month. But again, we would like to broaden it and to make it clearer and more promising.

MR. RANDALL: Mr. Foreign Minister, more than a month has passed before the original deadline for the beginning of the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and Jericho. Are you and the PLO any closer to an agreement on that withdrawal at this point?

FOR. MIN. PERES: We have overcome many hurdles and many difficulties. But since we are doing something which is unprecedented and unpaved, we are encountering from time to time new problems and new questions. And every time we have to make a new and supreme effort to handle some very complicated issues. Right now we are facing one or two issues like it, and I do hope very much that we shall be able to negotiate them, overcome them, and to continue the road to peace. What I am sure is that neither of the two parties, nor the Palestinians nor us, do have a better alternative or do have an alternative at all. We have to go ahead. We have to implement what was basically agreed on September the 13th on the lawn of the White House.

MR. RANDALL: Are you still convinced that you are dealing with a negotiator who is dealing in good faith in Yasser Arafat?

FOR. MIN. PERES: You know, we do not negotiate we do not select the other party, as they do not select us. We have to negotiate with the people who represent the Palestinians, and we still believe that the PLO do represent the Palestinians and Mr. Arafat

MR. RANDALL: But do you still have faith in Mr. Arafat, Mr. Foreign Minister?

FOR. MIN. PERES: We are negotiating and we know that he is the party that we have to negotiate with.

MR. RANDALL: Let me end this where we began, Mr. Foreign Minister. President Assad today in Geneva called on the leaders of Israel to show what he called sufficient courage. Is this could this be a watershed in the relationship between Israel and Syria? Could this be a moment to be seized?

FOR. MIN. PERES: That’s my hope. It’s not yet his promise. I do believe that, again, Syria must make peace with Israel as Israel must make peace with Syria. There is no escape and there is no real alternative. I think the tasks of the leaders of the two countries is to shorten the period of time between the present moment to the time that we shall offer peace to our people; the sooner, the better. I do believe that President Assad made a strategic decision in favor of peace. Whether he drew all the conclusions which are necessary in order to implement the peace remains to be seen.