A Neighbor Looks At Iraq's Future

King Abdullah of Jordan, in photo taken in the year 2000

No one in the Middle East has observed the war in Iraq more closely or with greater interest and concern than the 41-year-old ruler of Jordan, King Abdullah.

Jordan is Iraq's western neighbor and was, until the war, its number one trading partner in the region. CBS News Anchor Dan Rather spoke with King Abdullah in Jordan's capital, Amman. More highlights from that interview will air Wednesday on 60 Minutes II.

Rather: Your Majesty, we speak as the battlefield victory is over, but now comes phase two: what are the stakes?

King Abdullah: I think the most important thing now is winning the peace. Now that you have General Garner going in with his team, you need to give an Iraqi face to the future of Iraq as quickly as possible. And we have to identify Iraqi leaders, community leaders, people from the old government that were not necessarily part of the regime, but those who served the country.

In fact, says Abdullah, leaders associated with Saddam's government may be the only alternative to those associated with the growing Islamist movement. But as for U.S.-supported opposition Iraqi opposition leaders:

King Abdullah: If I was an Iraqi who had suffered over the past 20-30 years, I would feel much more affinity to somebody who was with me during the difficult times, than somebody who was outside. And although the opposition can play a role, I think it's a minor role.

Rather: Is it or is it not practical to believe that Iraq can be held together, that the Shiite south doesn't break away and the Kurds don't break away in the north?

King Abdullah: It has to. The breakup of Iraq will not only impact on the Iraqi people itself, but will escalate across the waters into the region further afield. If we don't keep the integrity of Iraq we could have some major problems throughout the whole of the Middle East.

Rather: Let's talk about the Arab world as a whole. What are the fears of Arabs in general?

King Abdullah: There was an international economic gathering a few months ago and the question was posed to a Western audience, and the same question was posed to an Arab audience: "What is the single most important thing in the Middle East?" The Western response was: democracy and freedom. The Arab response was: a future for Palestine. And I think the West needs to understand that the core issue is still the Israeli-Palestinian one.

For King Abdullah, this moment in history is pivotal, not only for the future of Iraq but for the whole Middle East.

King Abdullah: If Iraq continues to disintegrate, let's say, god forsake and there's no pressure on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the skeptics in the Arab world will say, "See, the Americans were there for the oil, they don't care about the Middle East," if you don't solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

I'm going to pay the price as well as my people, and so will you. You will continue to be dragged in, too. You've been covering the region for how many years? And you will continue to be back here asking these questions unless we solve it once and for all.