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Annapolis Peace Summit; Is Thompson Falling Short in the Presidential Race?

Aired November 27, 2007 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, with President Bush urging them on, the Israeli and Palestinians leaders vowing to try to reach a peace deal within a year. But the effort to stop them may already be underway.

He was billed as the next Ronald Reagan, surging in the polls before he ever entered the presidential race.

But is Fred Thompson now falling short?

And his family's tragedies are a nation's tragedies, his own life a roller coaster of triumphs and failures. Senator Ted Kennedy signing a multi-million dollar book deal.

What is he prepared to tell all of us?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A three way handshake usually a sign that a deal has been sealed. But today, it only marks the beginning of a new U.S.-led effort to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. They're on a tight deadline. The clock is now ticking. The stakes are enormous. The kickoff -- a high profile conference with dozens of nations attending. But those not invited are already rejecting this new push for peace.

Let's go live to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee.

She's watching all of this unfold in Annapolis -- can the U.S., Zain, really get this Israeli-Palestinian peace deal done by the end of next year?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, it says it's committed, Wolf. But, you know, the stakes are really high here for the United States. Today, it delivered on its promises, but the clock is ticking.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): The symbolic moment -- the U.S. president pulling together Israeli and Palestinians leaders, putting them on a track to a peace deal by the end of next year. GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The time is right, the cause is just.

VERJEE: The president made a dramatic start to the conference -- announcing both sides have agreed to immediately start the hard negotiations toward a Palestinian state. Both sides will meet every two weeks to try and nail down details.

EHUD OLMERT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We are prepared to make a painful compromise, rife with risks, in to order to realize these aspirations.

MAHMOUD ABBAS, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRESIDENT (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We would remove the most important reasons for terrorism in our region.

VERJEE: But real success will be determined after Annapolis. The parties still have to compromise on the toughest of issues -- dropped out of their joint statement -- the status of Jerusalem, Israel's identity as a Jewish state, the fate of Palestinians refugees.

The presence of more than 40 countries, especially Saudi Arabia, gave the process a boost. But the kingdom's ambassador to the U.S. warned it wants to see words put into action. The big unknown is whether President Bush will be hands on to the end. He says he will, pledging that the U.S.

will judge and monitor both sides.

BUSH: America will do everything in our power...

VERJEE: The Palestinians militant group Hamas -- archenemy of the Palestinian President Abbas -- may do anything it can to wreck momentum. It refuses to lay down its weapons, saying the summit is doomed to failure and Abbas is a traitor.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE: Even at the start of the conference, Wolf, it wasn't really even really clear if they would actually agree on anything or get an agreement. But what happened, at the very last minute, President Bush told Secretary Rice and the Israeli and Palestinians foreign ministers just to go away and hammer out the agreement -- and they did -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you've had a chance to speak to the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir. The Saudis are being represented by their foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal.

What exactly did he say?

Tell us a little bit about the Saudi role, because, as you know, and our viewers know, the Saudis have enormous influence in the Arab world.

VERJEE: They do. It is really significant that the Saudis were here. They do have an influence, where if the Saudis endorse a process, it's very likely the rest of the Arab world is going to follow suit. But the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. said that this was really a positive development today, it was a step in the right direction. Adel Al-Jubeir said that nothing can really ever happen without U.S. commitment.

I also asked him if there were any subtle or indirect or direct overtures to the Israelis in the form of a handshake or any kind of exchange or interaction. He said no way. We're not here for theatrics or photo-ops or anything like that. Once we have normal relations, then maybe we'll shake hands, he said -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thanks very much.

Zain watching the story in Annapolis.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Palestinians -- supporters of Hamas -- rallied in Gaza today. They chanted "Death To America!" and "Death To Israel!" and they accused the Palestinians Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, of being a "collaborator." There wee also demonstrations in Abbas' stronghold -- some demonstrations in the West Bank. Palestinian police actually broke up demonstrations in Ramallah and Hebron, where one protester was reportedly killed.

In Lebanon, some Palestinian refugees took to the streets there, demanding the right to return.

Another possible X factor in this peace deal -- that would be what Iran is up to right now.

CNN's Aneesh Raman reporting from Tehran -- Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, once again Iran today said the Annapolis conference was doomed for failure. It really feels no threat of isolation out of this meeting. The only concern for Iran was, of course, the fact that Syria was in attendance. Many people have said that part of the conference is to wedge the alliance between Iran and Syria. But earlier today, according to the Iranian press, Syria's foreign minister -- who is not in attendance in Annapolis -- called Iran's ambassador in Damascus and said Syria already thinks the conference is a failure and that it only intended to discuss the Golan Heights.

Now, Iran is essentially going about business as usual. Today they announced that they have built a new long-range missile with the capability of traveling 1,200 miles. That puts U.S. bases in the Middle East and Israel in the range of capability for those missiles. Iran also said tomorrow it's going to launch a new submarine in the southern waters. All of this, the defense minister said, was a defensive strategy, preparing for any possible attack -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman reporting from Iran, a key player in all of this, as well.

North Korea is supposed to be disabling its main nuclear reactor. The U.S. and other nations trying to end North Korea's weapons program. They sent officials to check what -- whether that's really happening, what exactly is going on. It wouldn't take much for North Korea, we've now learned, to bring its nuclear program back to life, as CNN's John Vause reports from Beijing.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): By year's end, if the North Koreans keep their word, this nuclear facility should be disabled in return for a huge payoff of aid. A team of American experts now on site will decide how the process will proceed. But the six party negotiators only reached agreement on the facility being disabled, not dismantled.

KIM TAE-WOO, KOREA INSTITUTE FOR DEFENSE ANALYSIS: If we destroy the control room and destroyed the reactor core and pour concrete into it, then I would say it is a high level of disablement. We can easily expect that North Korea will resist any high level disablement.

VAUSE: And until that happens, analysts say Kim Jong Il and his rogue regime could easily get back into the nuclear business.

TAE-WOO: I would say it can be restarted in a matter of a months.

VAUSE (voice-over): The North's nuclear arsenal will be the focus of the next round of six party talks. If there's agreement then, they'll move on into the complete and total dismantling of the nuclear program. In other words, it seems the most difficult, the most contentious issues are still to come.

John Vause, CNN, Beijing.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

He's in New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, thanks.

This is a somewhat puzzling and troubling story. It's being called a modern epidemic. Washington, D.C., our nation's capital, has the highest rate of AIDS infection of any city in the country. And the disease is being spread to infants, older adults, women and heterosexual men at a record pace. A new study done by Washington, D.C. city officials full of some very scary stuff. One in 50 people are living with AIDS or HIV -- the virus that causes AIDS. Blacks account for 81 percent of newly reported HIV cases and 86 percent of those living with AIDS. And that's significant when you consider black residents make up less than 60 percent of Washington, D.C.'s population. The report also shows a 43 percent increase in AIDS cases from 2001 -- stunning when you consider the strides made against the disease and all of the awareness and public information available to people who are interested in educating themselves.

All of which means the AIDS rate in Washington is worse than anywhere else in the U.S. -- almost twice the rate of AIDS in New York City, more than four times the rate of Detroit, Michigan.

City officials say they've begun confronting the problem and providing voluntary screening to all incoming prison inmates, tripling the number of locations for free screenings for HIV and giving out free condoms.

The question then is this -- why, do you suppose, does Washington, D.C. have the highest rate of AIDS infection of any city in the United States?

E-mail caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile.

Troubling stuff -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's really troubling.

All right, Jack, thanks very much for that.

The star that's struggling on the campaign trail.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe an awful lot like Reagan, but I don't want it be compared with him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Fred Thompson -- how he went from hot to hardly in the race for the White House.

Is that true?

Can he make a comeback or were expectations for him simply too high?

Also, the $8 million man -- Ted Kennedy signs a massive book deal.

Will he finally explain what happened at all of the events of his life?

And this -- the world adventurer, Steve Fossett -- he and his plane vanished. But now his family wants him declared officially dead.

Stick around.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A lot of conservatives saw him as the GOP's last great hope for the 2008 presidential election. But now former Senator Fred Thompson's campaign is apparently losing some steam. He's falling in some of the polls. Many are wondering what went wrong. Carol Costello has been looking into this part of the story.

So what are people saying about Fred Thompson -- Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, he's been compared repeatedly to Ronald Reagan. And most Republican candidates would love that. And Thompson did, too. But his comparison to Reagan was sort of like the second coming of Reagan. And, in the end, Thompson's Reaganesque quality hurt him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): It was March and Fred Thompson was riding high.

FRED THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm glad you're here.

COSTELLO: Calls for him to run for president were loud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here's President Thompson.

COSTELLO: He placed third in national polls and he wasn't even in the race yet. Hopeful supporters fueled the fire by proclaiming him the next Ronald Reagan. And it sure seemed like he could be. A popular likable actor, just like Reagan.

THOMPSON: He sure as hell doesn't want his kisser in a courtroom.

COSTELLO: And, like Reagan, he held a political office. Thompson's Reaganesqueness even lured some big time conservative operatives to his campaign -- Mary Matalin and George P. Bush, the president's nephew.

MARK HALERPIN, POLITICAL ANALYST, TIME.COM: People started making the Reagan comparison and Fred Thompson embraced it. There's no better brand in Republican politics than the Ronald Reagan brand.

COSTELLO: And Thompson did embrace the brand.

Who wouldn't?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY CBN.COM)

THOMPSON: I believe an awful lot like Reagan. But I don't want it be compared would him. There's only -- there will only be one Ronald Reagan and it's not me. And I don't see him around anywhere else, either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: But some strategists and political pros say Thompson let the Reagan comparisons go too far and now the comparison is a burden.

JOHN SIDES, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: He's had trouble meeting the expectations that people established for him, to be this conservative savior, to be the true heir to the mantle of Ronald Reagan.

THOMPSON: I'm in...

COSTELLO: And Thompson has himself to blame -- a poor first debate appearance that prompted YouTubers to proclaim, "You are no Ronald Reagan."

THOMPSON: Hello. Hello.

COSTELLO: And some not so stellar campaign appearances.

THOMPSON: First of all, could I have a round of applause?

COSTELLO: In New Hampshire, Thompson's poll numbers slipped, from double digits in June of 2007 to 4 percent in November. Thompson's campaign told me they are not worried. Thompson may not be the smoothest candidate, but he is sincere. There are candidates, they say, who stances today are poll-driven. Senator Thompson is conservative today and will be tomorrow.

And despite those numbers in New Hampshire, some analysts are not writing him off -- pointing to national polls that show Thompson's support in double digits -- ahead of Mike Huckabee and John McCain.

HALPERIN: I think it's past time for Fred Thompson to be calling himself another Ronald Reagan. He should be focused on being another Fred Thompson -- a Fred Thompson different than the one who got off to such a slow start and one who still has a chance, if he works hard and some of the other candidates make mistakes, to be the Republican nominee.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

COSTELLO: And Thompson did put out what some say is a pretty good tax plan. And his message is now starting to gel, they say. He's a better campaigner and he has a chance to really rise in tomorrow's CNN/YouTube debate.

But it may be too late it repair the damage. I guess we'll just have to see.

BLITZER: We're hoping to interview Senator Thompson in the coming days, as well.

Thanks very much for that, Carol.

So what's said to be one of the most lucrative book deals in history is now going to be the book deal that will go to the Democratic senator, Ted Kennedy. He's poised to make millions of dollars for his memoir.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM watching this.

So how much is Ted Kennedy getting for his memoir?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's getting a lot. Wasn't Carol Costello just here?

BLITZER: She was. It's amazing.

FOREMAN: She just vanished.

He's getting a lot. His book is coming out in 2010, with a pay day only to Bill Clinton's and Tony Blair's. And, of course, he had plenty of material to work with -- a life of triumph and tragedy -- both personal and political.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Senator Ted Kennedy 's autobiography has produced a deal reportedly worth more than the $8 million for Hillary Clinton's book. It is a lot of money, but it will buy a priceless insider's view of American politics.

The senator says: "I've been fortunate in my life to grow up in an extraordinary family and to have a front row seat at many key events in our nation's history."

Ted Kennedy was there every step of the way as his family built a political dynasty. He won the Senate seat his brother John F. Kennedy left when he became president.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ask not what your...

FOREMAN: Then he mourned when that brother was assassinated in 1963.

ROBERT KENNEDY, FORMER SENATOR OF THE UNITED STATES: On to Chicago and let's win there.

FOREMAN: He mourned again when his brother Bobby was gunned down, too -- five years later.

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.

FOREMAN: And as other family members have met with trial and tragedy, he's grown ever more the public face of the Kennedys.

T. KENNEDY: I think about my brothers every day.

FOREMAN: At one point, it seemed a certainty that he would pick up the torch for his fallen brothers.

ADAM CLYMER, AUTHOR, "EDWARD M. KENNEDY": On the plane flying back from Los Angeles -- the plane that carried Robert Kennedy's body -- we came up to him and said, "Now you've got to run."

FOREMAN: But in 1969, he drove his car off of a bridge in the island of Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts. A young female aide, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned. Ted Kennedy fled the scene.

T. KENNEDY: I regard indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the police immediately.

FOREMAN: It could is be the most sensitive incident he will have to explain to his readers.

CLYMER: I think there is no question that they'll turn to the chapter that deals with Chappaquiddick to see if he says anything more or anything differently than he's ever said before.

FOREMAN: Kennedy tried for the presidency -- losing a bid to unseat Jimmy Carter in 1980. But his concession speech still reflected the memories of his brothers.

T. KENNEDY: The cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

FOREMAN: An aide says he may write a memoir, but he has no intention of retiring. He was just reelected last year. And his agent says a significant portion of his proceeds from this very expensive book will go to charities, including the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, which is a fascinating place to visit, if you ever get a chance. It's full of many of the images we saw right there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I lived through a lot of that. I'm looking forward to reading the book.

FOREMAN: It should be fascinating.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Tom Forman.

Home prices across the United States, as a lot of you know, they're plunging. We're going to show you why some are saying that could cost the country hundreds of thousands of jobs. Details of new worries unfolding right now about the so-called mortgage meltdown.

Plus, a middle of the night encounter with an intruder and now the NFL's Sean Taylor is dead. There are new details of this stunning crime.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: U.S. consumers got another dose of very tough news today, with some gloomy figures from the housing front. This is a story that affects all of us.

CNN's Gerri Willis is in New York, helping us understand what these new numbers mean to homeowners -- Gerri, break down the numbers for us, first of all.

GERRI WILLIS, PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Hi there, Wolf.

U.S. home prices fell 4.5 percent in the third quarter from a year ago -- this according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Now, this is the sharpest drop since the Index was put together two decades ago. In the third quarter alone, home prices fell 1.7 percent. This is just another sign that the housing slump is far from over.

At the top of the list, Tampa is the metro area with the largest decline in home prices at over 11 percent. Miami isn't far behind, with prices falling 10 percent in the past year.

Now, Detroit and San Diego are both down over 9.5 percent. Las Vegas is down 9 percent -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Those are significant drops, because the prices are supposed to go up. At least we've been spoiled over the years to think that they will go up.

What's behind these numbers?

WILLIS: Well, this is really a story of two markets. First, we saw the decline in the Midwest. That's where unemployment took hold. Detroit had one foreclosure filing for every 33 households. Now, we're seeing the former go-go markets on the coast decline. That's where Florida and California are down. Prices in Tampa have appreciated 87 percent in the past five years -- just to put this in perspective. And in Miami, prices have increased 125 percent in the past five years.

So, Wolf, it's all relative.

BLITZER: So when the prices of these homes -- the value goes down, what's the impact on the economy?

WILLIS: Well, interestingly, the U.S. Conference of Mayors President Doug Palmer outlined what this foreclosure crisis could mean.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG PALMER, PRESIDENT, U.S. CONFERENCE OF MAYORS: The foreclosure crisis has the potential to break the back of our economy, as well as the back of millions of American families, if we don't do something soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIS: All right, so the U.S. Conference of Mayors predicts there will be 524,000 fewer jobs -- half a million fewer jobs created next year. Home prices declines are expected to be down 7 percent across the U.S. next year. Plus, about 128 metro areas will be pushed into sluggish growth.

But foreclosures have a devastating effect on the values of individual homes, too. For every foreclosure in your area, your home loses about 1 percent of its value.

The bottom line here -- the housing recovery is not going to happen any time soon. From peak to trough, Moody's Economy.com says total home sales will decline by 38 percent. The median existing house price will fall 12 percent. Housing sales will hit bottom in the first half of next year and prices won't bottom until 2009.

And, Wolf, there is this. If a candidate were able to galvanize voters in the top 10 foreclosure states, he or she would be just six electoral votes shy of winning the election. That's from a company that tracks the foreclosure trends -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it's such a painful story because it's the American dream to own your own home for your family. And if you get this foreclosure notice, there goes that dream.

Gerri, thanks very much.

Very disturbing news that affects so many of our viewers.

An historic handshake and a smile -- President Bush gets Israelis and Palestinians to the table to talk peace.

Will it have any real impact on the ground?

We'll speak to the foreign secretary of Britain, David Miliband.

Also, American daredevil Steve Fossett -- he and his plane simply disappeared and now his family is giving up hope he'll ever be found alive.

And a British teacher is facing jail and a whipping for allowing schoolchildren to name a Teddy Bear Mohammed. We'll tell you what's going on.

Stick around.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Vice President Dick Cheney is back at work after undergoing a procedure to correct an irregular heart beat. Doctors over at George Washington University Hospital sedated Mr. Cheney and used an electric shock to restore normal rhythm. He's back at work.

Also, riders in Paris suburbs are upping the ante firing buck shot at police with dozens of officers wounded. The French capital reeling from two nights of violence that erupted after two teenagers died in the crash with a police car.

And what's the best country in the world to live in? The answer, Iceland. That, according to an annual U.N. index looking at life expectancy, income and other factors. Norway dropped to second after six years in first place. The U.S. dropped from eighth to 12th.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Private American contractors' convoy guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad shooting spree. Now, there's a lawsuit that alleges that some of these Blackwater security guards were feeling the effects of steroids.

Let's go it our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre who is watching this very disturbing story. What are you learning, Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, it's a very serious charge and the lawyers who are making it have yet to produce any hard evidence, but they say they'll have that evidence when they go to court.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Lawyers for some victims of the September 16th shootings alleged that Blackwater guards were regular steroid users and suggest that could have been a factor in the incident, by magnifying the guard's anger and making them more prone to overreact.

SUSAN BURKE, LEAD COUNSEL: What we've learned is that there's fairly widespread steroid use among the personnel that they call shooters, the people that go out on the vehicles with guns.

MCINTYRE: A lawsuit just filed in federal court in Washington spells out the charge. "Blackwater knew that 25 percent or more of its shooters were ingesting steroids or other judgment altering substances yet failed to take effective steps to stop the drug use." Contacted by CNN, a company spokesperson said, "All Blackwater personnel are drug tested during the screening process before ever working for the company and are subject to random testing, which is performed quarterly. Steroids and performance enhancement drugs both illegal and prescribed are absolutely in violation of our policy. If anyone were known to be using illegal drugs, they would be fired immediately."

BURKE: It's not enough it just fire a few people after the fact. They've got to be looking into this.

MCINTYRE: The lawyers say they have sources with inside knowledge who confirm the company turned a blind eye to steroid use and that by putting employees under oath, they will be able to build a convincing case.

The lawsuit asks for significant, but unspecified punitive damages on behalf of seven victims or their families, including Mahasin Mosin Kodum (ph), a doctor whose son, a second year medical student, was shot to death just before she, herself, was gunned down as she cradled her dead son's body calling for help.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: A tendency towards violence is a well documented side effect of steroids. It even has a slang name, roid rage. What no one is saying though is whether any of these Blackwater employees were tested for drugs or steroids after the incident or whether the FBI has even made that part of its investigation. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Jamie, thanks very much. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

Let's get back to our top story now. The historic U.S. push under way right now for an Israeli/Palestinian peace deal kicked off with a very high profile summit in Annapolis, Maryland. But there was no seat at the table for either Iran or Hamas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

And joining us now is Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband. Foreign Secretary, thanks very much for coming in. You're in Annapolis right now. We've heard the speeches. The hand shakes seem impressive. But let's talk about some of those who are not there right now who potentially could be spoilers in this process; first and foremost, Hamas, which controls Gaza. Is this a mistake, a blunder, that these Palestinian leaders who were, after all, democratically elected, are not present at this conference?

DAVID MILIBAND, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Well, good afternoon, Wolf. The leader of the Palestinian authority, Mahmoud Abbas was elected by all the Palestinian people. He's here to speak for all the Palestinian people and it's right that he leads negotiations with Israel. I'm convinced and I think the whole international community is convinced that we'll never tackle the insecurity that is felt by Israelis or the suffering of Palestinians without a viable Palestinian state living securely next to a secure Israel. That is the prospect that has been opened up by this conference today. There's a long way to go. It's a time for real engagement not for predictions or for optimism but after years of deep freeze, I think negotiations opening does mark an important step forward.

BLITZER: They say Hamas and its leaders that Mahmoud Abbas does not represent the Palestinians, that he represents only himself. How worried are you that they, the Hamas leadership, the Hamas supporters could disrupt this entire new effort to jump start the peace process?

MILIBAND: Well, I'm sure there will be plenty of people who want to disrupt this attempt by the forces of moderation to come together and bring security to Israel and justice to the Palestinians. But I think that the forces gathered to here, not just the United States, Israel, the Palestinian authority, but all permanent members of the Security Council, the whole Arab world represents a mighty coalition. This is a tragedy, really, that has been going on for 40 years now since the 1967 war. There is only one solution. It's the shared goal that President Bush, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas all committed themselves to today. And I think that over the next year there's real determination on the ground but also from countries around the world to do what they can to make this happen. From Britain, we're going to be pledging economic support but also helping improve Palestinian security. Other countries will be playing a role, too. In the end, it's going to be change on the ground that convinces Palestinians and Israelis that this process is for real.

BLITZER: Was there ever any serious consideration given to invite Iran to be representative in Annapolis, as well, given the large number of Arab countries, Muslim countries who were, in fact, invited and have accepted those invitations?

MILIBAND: Well, obviously, the Arab League represents 22 Arab countries and Iran is not one of them. I think that Iran's nuclear ambitions are a source of instability in the Middle East, so, are not welcomed. But I think that the whole international community, including the United States, has said to Iran that they have a very clear choice. Iran can abide by the rules of the international game. They can pursue a civil nuclear power program, but they cannot pursue a nuclear weapons program. That's a very clear position. So, Iran has got a choice to make, but the choice that's been made by the Arab states, the 22 states of the Arab League, is to engage. The Arab peace initiative offers recognition of the state of Israel. Prime Minister Olmert talked about that Arab peace initiative today in his speech and normalizing relations with the Arab world is a central feature of this process.

BLITZER: But non-Arab Muslim states were, in fact invited and a few of them, at least, accepted the invitation. Let me rephrase the question or repeat the question. Was there any consideration given to inviting Iran to this conference?

MILIBAND: Not that I know of, no. I think that Iran's role has not been a positive force for stability over the last few years and Iran has got to make a choice about how it engages. But I don't know of any suggestion that they were it be invited.

BLITZER: Now, Syria is attending this conference. The deputy foreign minister is there. What, if anything, does that mean that Syria sent its deputy foreign minister as opposed to your equivalent the foreign minister of Syria?

MILIBAND: Well, I've said to my Syrian opposite number in New York in September that they should fully engage. I think it is good that they're represented here, at least deputy foreign minister level, they haven't just set an ambassador. Obviously, Syria needs to look at its own position, from my point of view. They need all the Arab states; including Syria, need to support the development of a viable Palestinian state economically. Syria has concerns and issues that it wants to put on the table and the deputy foreign minister will be speaking later on today to raise the issues that they have in respect to the goals which are important to a comprehensive peace settlement. I think I hope that Syria engages from the highest level downwards to make sure they're part of the solution and not part of the problem.

BLITZER: I noticed that the president, President Bush in his opening remarks, he was speaking also about the situation in Lebanon right now and, clearly, implicating Syria without mentioning Syria by name that Syria should lay off, standoff and allow the Lebanese people themselves to elect their political leadership. Is Syria playing a destructive or a constructive role in Lebanon right now? MILIBAND: Well, someone said to me today that there is an "organized vacuum" in Lebanon at the moment. It's a very delicate situation. It's important that all sides seek compromise and that a compromise presidential candidate does emerge and, obviously, unhelpful intervention from outside isn't justified at all. We've, obviously, been very concerned as I'm sure you and your viewers have been by the series of assassinations that have happened in the Lebanon. It's vital that that country is able to build some sort of security and stability and compromise candidate for president is the next step forward in that.

BLITZER: I'll let you go. But one bottom line question, will there be an Israeli/Palestinian agreement by the end of next year?

MILIBAND: I hope so. Very much hope so.

BLITZER: We all hope so. Let's see if it happens. Foreign Secretary, kind of you to spend a few moments with you. Good luck.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: He disappeared months ago on a solo flight over the Nevada desert and now his wife wants the adventurer Steve Fossett declared legally dead. At stake, millions in assets.

And pro football star Sean Taylor dies after being shot in his home by what police say was an intruder. We'll have the very latest on the investigation.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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BLITZER: He's been missing for months and now the wife of tycoon and adventurer Steve Fossett is asking a court to declare him presumed dead and get his will into probate. CNN's Dan Simon has the latest. Dan?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's been almost three months since Steve Fossett disappeared in the Nevada desert. Of course, it's widely presumed that Steve Fossett died, perhaps in a crash. Now his wife wants him to be declared legally dead.

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SIMON: Steve Fossett vanished while flying a small plane in Nevada on September 3rd. In the days that followed, his family held out hope that he would be found alive. No wreckage has been discovered. Still, it's presumed that Fossett died in a crash. His wife now is trying to make it official. She filed this 57-page petition in Illinois trying to get a judge to declare him legally dead. Peggy Fossett writes, "As difficult as it is for me to reach this conclusion, I no longer hold out any hope that Steve has survived." Having Fossett declared dead has enormous monetary consequences. In addition it his aviation accomplishments, Fossett earned millions in business as a commodities trader. His wife wants his will to be executed.

STEVE FOSSETT, AVIATION PIONEER: I wanted to achieve something in aviation, I've had some interest in aviation and this was an opportunity for me to do something that had never been done before.

SIMON: That was a preview of things to come. In 2002, he became the first person to fly around the world in a balloon, another solo effort and three years later, he did the same thing in an airplane without refueling.

Fossett loved going after records. In one of his last interviews he told CNN there were many more feats to accomplish.

FOSSETT: There's a lot of things. Some of which I can't completely tell you about because I like to keep my unannounced projects unannounced but it's interesting how many fascinating projects are available to be done and no one's trying to do them.

SIMON: Fossett grew up in southern California. At 13, he became an eagle scout. His motivation would serve him well. He was clear on how he viewed himself.

FOSSETT: I see myself as an adventure and I like it do something unique in adventure and exploration.

SIMON: Those adventures also included sailing, dog sledding, triathlons and cross country skiing. He swam the English Channel and climbed the world's tallest mountains. Fossett set more than 100 records in five sports, dozens of which still stand. But of all the activities, his favorite ...

FOSSETT: I love to fly gliders. It's the most graceful form of aviation.

SIMON: Fossett married wife Peggy in 1968 and they never had any children.

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SIMON: The court documents filed by Fossett's wife also shed additional details on his disappearance. She says that he was flying for pleasure, that he only planned to be gone for about two or three hours. All he had with him was a single bottle of water. He was not equipped for a long ordeal. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Dan, thanks very much. Dan Simon with that sad story.

Another sad story we're following right now, the owner of the Washington Redskins calling it the worst imaginable tragedy; the football safety Sean Taylor dying overnight after being shot by what's said to be an intruder who broke into his Miami home.

CNN's John Zarrella is joining us with the latest. John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as family members grieve at Sean Taylor's father home, the question is now being asked again over and over again by friends, by relatives and certainly by police, was this, in fact, simply a random act of violence?

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His family is devastated. There was a brief moment where a nurse felt him squeeze her hand but that was false hope. He never gained consciousness. He was never responsive to anyone.

ZARRELLA: 24-year-old Sean Taylor died just a little more than 24 hours after being shot by an intruder who broke into his home in the middle of the night. His girlfriend and mother of his child told police how it happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was basically hiding under the covers. Sean was awakened with his girlfriend and 18-month-old baby noises, thumps in the living room and they got up and he locked the bedroom door. Before he could do anything, the door was kicked in. And two shots were fired.

ZARRELLA: One of those shots hit Taylor in the leg, rupturing his femoral artery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was on the floor, non-responsive, bleeding out and chest heaving, eyes rolled back. He was pretty much gone from that point on.

ZARRELLA: Miami police are investigating the case as a homicide, and probing whether it's related to a break-in at Taylor's home just eight days earlier. Taylor's teammates and fans were stunned by the news of his death.

REED DOUGHTY, TAYLOR'S TEAMMATE: Just the shock of it right now is the hardest part. Especially with maybe some encouraging words last night going to bed, to hear the news this morning is still really hard to handle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a sad thing. I'm still in disbelief.

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ZARRELLA: There are mysterious circumstances surrounding what happened here. First of all, the police are investigating, but they have not confirmed that perhaps the phone lines were cut to the house. And during that robbery back nine days ago now, eight days before Sean Taylor's murder, there were also, there was also a knife left on a bed in the bedroom. So, some very mysterious circumstances and things that have gone on, Wolf, that police are trying to put together to find out what happened to Sean Taylor. Wolf?

BLITZER: What a sad story this is. John Zarrella on the scene for us, thank you.

Millions of people hear her warning, mind the gap. That's the warning. We're going to show you the gap that cost the voice of London's tube her voice.

Plus, a historic chance for Middle East peace. We're going to talk about that and more with democratic presidential candidate, Senator Chris Dodd.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got the Cafferty File. Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Shocking statistics, Wolf. The question is why does Washington, D.C., have the highest rate of AIDS infection of any city in the country?

James in Seattle offers this, "Could be a number of reasons; extreme division of wealth and poverty, high crime rates, low education statistics, prostitution, hey, the town is full of out-of- town senators. But maybe this is the universe's way of saying to Washington, which ignored AIDS for so long labeling it as a gay issue, that AIDS is everyone's problem. So here it is, right at your door and all its nightmarish glory, now deal with it."

Vincent in Vermont writes "D.C. and other areas have high rates of infection because of ignorance and poverty. Education is available but poverty and ignorance are key to an understanding of this problem and many others that affect our society and the world in general."

Mark in Oklahoma, "Typical Washington lunacy. Our leaders run around all over the world trying to solve everybody else's problems while their own citizens' lives crumble right under their noses."

E.J. in Kansas City, Missouri, "Perhaps the AIDS rate in D.C. is a testament to the ineffectiveness of abstinence-based sex ed class. If the Bush administration were handing out condoms instead of lectures, the situation might be different."

Rick in Vermont writes, "The most obvious answer is that the District of Columbia has no state infrastructure for health issues, unlike any other American city. The congress rules by fiat and doesn't have to answer to Washington, D.C. city authorities. Congress, as in many other matters, just doesn't care."

And Grady in Greenwood Village, Colorado, "Mr. Cafferty, you don't really want a truthful answer to this, do you? Talking about disease, behavior and economic and racial demographics is something that Americans cannot do without getting emotional and irrational. That would be way too politically incorrect, even for you." Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. Jack will be with us shortly for our round table, as well.

Coming up, Arkansas is cracking down on illegal immigration. There are new steps unfolding there right now. CNN's Lou Dobbs standing by to join us. We'll talk about what is happening with immigration in Arkansas.

Also, Jesse Jackson has some very nice things to say about John Edwards. So why is Jesse Jackson endorsing Barack Obama?

And democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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BLITZER: Lou Dobbs getting ready for his show that begins in one hour. Lou is in Little Rock tonight watching an important story. I take it they're trying to crack down on illegal immigration in Arkansas. What's going on?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely. And a group of people, as is happening it seems, Wolf, across the country, churches and various business groups are trying to get together to stop the state's efforts to crackdown on illegal immigration, Even permit the state to hire illegal aliens in point of fact. So, we're here to kind of take a look at what the elites in this state are doing to try to subvert the will of the people and TO halt the enforcement of U.S. immigration law and state law here in Arkansas. That is going to be something of a hoot. We'll have both sides represented with us tonight and we'll have a complete airing of the issues, as they say.

BLITZER: Are you upbeat or pessimistic about this Middle East peace conference that unfolded today in Annapolis, Maryland?

DOBBS: Well, you know, you can say what you will. I don't think there's any point in everybody being so cute and half, too clever by half and saying that there are a lot of obstacles here. It's difficult, et cetera. Of course, it's difficult, of course it's complex, but, let's be optimistic about it and hope that we can get something done and nothing can be done unless we're trying and finally all parties seem to be trying. All parties except of course perhaps Hamas and Iran but you know that can be dealt with too. So I guess you put me down as optimistic and I'm delighted to see this administration finally gear up and get it going.

BLITZER: As everyone says, better late than never. All right. Lou, thanks very much. Lou's going to have a terrific show coming up in one hour 7:00 p.m. eastern.

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