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THE SITUATION ROOM

Hostage Crisis in Maryland Ends; Accused Military Leaker's Lawyer Speaks Out; President Obama Makes Statement After Meeting With Middle East Leaders

Aired September 1, 2010 - 17:00   ET

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


(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

CHIEF THOMAS MANGER, MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE: At approximately 1:00 this afternoon, an Asian male entered the Discovery building in Silver Spring. He had what we believe to be explosive devices strapped to his front and back. He also had a handgun.

There are reports that we've not confirmed yet that he did fire a shot when he came in. He took three people hostage near the lobby area of the entrance to the building.

Over the past several hours, we have been in negotiations with the man. Approximately 10 minutes ago, the suspect was shot by police officers. A device appeared to go off. We haven't confirmed that as of this time. We saw some smoke, ,may have heard a pop, but we haven't confirmed all of that information yet.

The hostages -- there were three hostages. All the hostages are safe and are out of the building.

At this point we are still -- it's still an operation, a joint operation between the police and fire rescue, because there are other suspected devices in the building that have not been rendered safe. And at this point we are -- the operation at this point is to make sure that those devices are rendered safe and removed.

Again, all the hostages were got out safely. We -- I don't believe that there's any injuries, but we -- we will confirm that once we get a chance to -- to talk at more length with -- with the hostages.

Again, we also have to clear the rest of the building. Where we could see the suspect, we know is clear. But there's further area in the -- on the first floor of the building that has not been checked yet. So, obviously, this -- we still have more to do. But at this point, the suspect is -- is in custody. I do not know his condition at this point. And the -- the three hostages that we could see that were near the suspect are safe -- have been safely removed.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) shot him?

QUESTION: Why did you shoot him?

QUESTION: Why did you shoot him? MANGER: Obviously, that -- there's going to be -- any time there's a use of deadly force by police officers, it's a long investigation. And that -- that will go through the investigative process.

QUESTION: Was he threatening the hostages?

(CROSSTALK)

MANGER: Based on the -- the information that -- that we had, we believe that it was -- that -- that the hostages' lives were in danger.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

MANGER: I -- I don't know the answer to that.

QUESTION: Was he becoming more agitated?

(CROSSTALK)

MANGER: I -- I -- I don't know the order, in which the -- he went down and the explosive device went off.

(CROSSTALK)

MANGER: OK?

QUESTION: Was he becoming more agitated?

Were -- were you concerned about him?

MANGER: We had been talking to him for several hours. And his -- he had a wide range of emotions during -- during our negotiations.

QUESTION: And what was his complaint directed at the Discovery Communications building?

MANGER: You know, we -- we -- I don't have all that information. I know that he had some history with the -- with the folks at Discovery Channel. And I believe, in fact, that they're -- that he was arrested here a couple of years ago. And so we -- there -- there is some history between he and the Discovery folks --

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: -- that he was wearing.

Is he still in one piece?

MANGER: I -- I -- I don't know. I don't have any information on the condition of the suspect.

QUESTION: Was he dead?

MANGER: I don't have any information on the condition of the suspect.

(CROSSTALK)

MANGER: I don't have any information on the condition.

QUESTION: When was your last communication with him?

MANGER: Just a few minutes before --

(CROSSTALK)

MANGER: -- before it was over.

(CROSSTALK)

MANGER: Pardon me?

(CROSSTALK)

MANGER: 4:48.

QUESTION: And, Chief, what other devices are you referring to when you say that there are other devices in the building?

MANGER: There are other devices that we suspect may be explosive devices that we don't know why they're in backpacks. And we don't know for certain who brought them in, what they are. We suspect that he may have brought them in. So we have to render them safe before this operation is over.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: You say he's in custody. That makes it sound as if he's alive.

Is he --

MANGER: I don't know the suspect's condition.

QUESTION: But you know he's in custody.

MANGER: We know that he is in custody.

(CROSSTALK)

MANGER: Pardon me?

QUESTION: Was he alive when you took him out?

MANGER: I -- I don't know the -- the -- the condition of the suspect at this point.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: -- in the building.

QUESTION: But is he on the way to the hospital or is he there?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Do you know anything like that?

MANGER: He -- I -- I -- I don't believe we've removed him from the building. Again, the building is not safe because of the devices that we have not rendered safe in that area.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Do you believe more than one person was involved (INAUDIBLE)?

MANGER: We're -- we are -- this is -- the investigative part of this is just beginning. There's a lot of information that we need to go through. And -- and we'll have another briefing when we get more information.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Did you see the hostages walk out?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: -- male or female?

MANGER: 6:00.

BLITZER: All right. So there you have the breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM even as we speak right now.

It looks like this hostage crisis situation in Silver Spring, Maryland has been resolved. We just heard from the Montgomery County police chief, saying that the suspect, James Lee, 43 years old, has been shot. He does not know the condition of the suspect, but the suspect is in custody right now.

We also have been told by the Montgomery County police chief that the three hostages are safe. They are fine. They're going through the building right now, the Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, right side -- right outside Washington, DC, to make sure that there is no explosives left in the backpacks or anything else that the suspect brought into that building.

Brianna Keilar, our correspondent, is on the scene for us -- Brianna, a dramatic development. It looks, at least right now -- we're keeping our fingers crossed -- it looks like it's been resolved, with the -- with the exception of making sure that none of those backpacks have any explosive devices or anything dangerous inside.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It looks like it's been resolved, at least insofar as we're talking about hostages at this point. We heard from the police chief they don't believe there are any injuries. But there were three hostages and they are now out safe. What's a little confusing here, Wolf, is what the condition of the gunman is, because apparently, as this press conference was wrapping up here, the chief had said that he was in custody. But he also says he doesn't know what his condition is. He doesn't know if he's alive or if he is dead. And because there is some concern because he had devices strapped to his body that were believed to be of an explosive nature -- and apparently one even somehow maybe sort of detonated or -- or let off a puff of smoke as he -- as he was shot, as the gunman was shot -- there is a concern about the safety of really going into where this suspect is. And so, Wolf, we don't know if the suspect is alive or dead and -- and really what the next step is here.

BLITZER: All right. So what you're seeing right now, Brianna, I take it, are a lot of law enforcement, fire personnel, emergency medical personnel. They're still on the scene right now. But they will -- the bomb detonation units, they'll go through this building to make sure that none of those backpacks or whatever have any explosive devices. That's what's apparently happening right now.

KEILAR: Yes, that is exactly what is happening right now. They're not sure that the building is safe, is what they said. And they are concerned about these devices. They were described -- at least what the suspect was wearing -- as metallic canisters that were attached to the front and back of his body. And there are really spotty details about exactly what else might be in there. But that is the obvious concern, it's not safe right now for authorities to go in.

So what they did was, fearing, they said, that the hostages' lives were in danger, police shot this suspect after negotiations had been going on for some time and they got those hostages out.

One of the questions that was asked -- one of the questions asked here was, why did they feel that the -- the hostages' lives were in danger, Wolf.

And we heard from police chief that as they were going through negotiations with the suspect, that he was experiencing a broad range of emotions, is how the police chief put it. So, obviously, he was behaving very erratically. And there was concern that they -- they weren't going to be able to certainly come to a -- a peaceful conclusion here. And so this was at 4:48, so really just less than 20 minutes ago, when police took this action and -- and the gunman was shot.

BLITZER: All right, Brianna. I want you to stand by.

Tom Fuentes is joining us right now.

He's a former assistant FBI director. He's a CNN contributor.

It looks like this is over with right now, unless you have a different assumption -- Tom.

THOMAS V. FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It would appear so, Wolf. And, of course, it's going to take probably several hours to go through that entire building room by room, closet by closet, to not only make sure there are no other devices, but also to make sure there aren't other office workers hiding somewhere, not knowing what's going on, not knowing if it's safe to come out.

But --

BLITZER: At what point, Tom -- because you've been involved in these kinds of hostage situations with a gunman -- at what point do the local authorities or the FBI, who may have been involved, as well, at what point do they decide they have no choice but to shoot the gunman?

FUENTES: Well, they have these negotiations going on, at this point, for about two hours, 45 minutes. And the negotiators, who are in constant discussion with the individual, when they believe that they just can't carry on a rational discussion, that he's becoming increasingly either agitated, unstable, his mental and emotional condition is such that he's liable to just any second cause direct harm to the hostages, the commanders would take that decision that if they can -- can remove him from the situation, to do so.

It's very similar to what we saw with the Navy SEALS and the captain of the Alabama Mersk, who was being held hostage by Somali pirates. When they reached the point that they felt that negotiations were not going to be successful, he's not going to give up peacefully, and, possibly, poses a direct threat to those hostages, for them to be killed, then the commander is going to make the decision to go ahead and end it.

BLITZER: Well, it looks like this incident is over with. We'll stay on top of it, of course.

Tom, thanks very much.

FUENTES: Sure.

BLITZER: Just to recap for our viewers, the suspect, James Lee, 43 years old, has been shot by local law enforcement. We don't know his condition right now. The three hostages he was holding have been released. They are fine, according to the Montgomery County police chief. That's right outside Washington, D.C. in Silver Spring, Maryland. All this occurring at the Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring.

We'll update you on this story and -- as we get more information. But, fortunately, it looks like the situation has been resolved right now.

Other important news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the far reaching goal of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is now front and center for President Obama. The president holding -- hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, and other top Middle Eastern leaders for a series of high stakes, bilateral talks over at the White House today. And only moments from now, the president will go to the microphone, speak in the Rose Garden. We're going to bring that to you. And he'll speak about what he's learned today and what he hopes will be achieved as this Israeli-Palestinian peace process gets off the ground.

In the meantime, let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- we did hear from the president, Ed, today. He showed up together with the Israeli prime minister to make an important statement.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. It's certainly very interesting. When you talk to the president's top aides, they say from the beginning of the -- of this administration, in private, at least, this president has had a very hands-on role with Mideast peace. We haven't seen a lot of that in public, though. This is really the first time we've seen such a hands-on role for this president. He had back to back, one-on-one Oval Office meetings, first, as you mentioned, with Prime Minister Netanyahu, then with President Abbas, as well.

Significant that the backdrop for these talks, of course, is that horrific attack in Hebron, in the West Bank. Four Israeli settlers killed. Obviously, it could have the potential to derail these talks. But instead, President Obama was very firm -- a president who, as we know, has been accused of -- of snubbing Prime Minister Netanyahu in a previous visit to the White House, has been accused of not being enough of a friend to Israel, was very direct in saying he stands behind Israel in the wake of this attack. He vowed this would not derail the talks. And it was very clear that the prime minister was thankful for that comment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The -- the tragedy we saw yesterday, where people were gunned down on the street by terrorists who are purposely trying to undermine these talks is an example of what we're up against. But I want everybody to be very clear, the United States is going to be unwavering in its support of Israel's security. And we are going to push back against these kinds of terrorist activities.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I think that the president's statement is an expression of our desire to fight against this terror. And the talks that we had which were, indeed, open, productive, serious in the quest for peace, also centered around the need to have security arrangements that are able to roll back this kind of terror and other threats to Israel's security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, you can see there may be little bits of optimism. They think perhaps that they're -- they're picking up some ground. And interesting that after his meeting with President Abbas in the Oval Office, President Obama told reporters, quote: "We are making progress." He did not offer details. That's why it's going to be significant, the next few moments, when he comes into the Rose Garden with other U.S. officials to see if he'll give us more details about what's been going on behind closed doors.

Later tonight, the president will be joined by the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, but also, King Abdullah of Jordan, who he's met with today, as well as President Mubarak of Egypt. They're here, as well, on the sidelines trying to push this along. They're going to be making comments later tonight, after the president's Rose Garden comments, around 7:00 p.m. Eastern. And then all of these leaders are going to go behind closed doors for a very important private dinner.

I'm told by some officials that at one point in the planning, they were thinking about having a really large dinner, all kinds of delegations, about a hundred people. They've shrunk it down now. It's just this handful of leaders, some translators. They really want to try to get some business done behind closed doors -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll stay on top of this. And we'll await the president's arrival in the Rose Garden, as well.

Ed, don't go too far away.

This certainly is not the first time the United States has attempted to broker peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That issue was an important component of the 1978 Camp David Accords overseen by President Jimmy Carter, which led to an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

In 1993, the PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, and the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, shared this handshake with Bill Clinton over at the White House following the Oslo agreement.

In the year 2000 President Clinton brought the two sides together once again at Camp David, but could not reach a final agreement between Arafat and the new Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barack.

And in 2003, the so-called road map to peace was drawn up by the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, although it was never successfully implemented.

As we told you, the president is scheduled to make a statement momentarily over in the Rose Garden on what is occurring, the history unfolding at the White House today. We'll bring that to you live here in THE SITUATION ROOM, stand by for that.

Also, an Army private right now at the center of an investigation into a massive intelligence leak. Our own Brian Todd talks to his new civilian attorney who says the Pentagon needs to watch what it says about his client.

And a camera catches a bomb blast in Pakistan. It's just one of three deadly explosives that ripped through a religious procession. We have details just coming in.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. Jack, Jack Cafferty.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, despite President Obama's speech last night, Wolf, the war in Iraq is not over.

In a somber address from the Oval Office, the president thanked the troops and formally ended America's combat role in Iraq after seven years. Mr. Obama said the U.S. has paid a huge price, and we have. The lives of more than 4,400 of our troops, another 35,000-plus wounded, a cost to our Treasury of $700 billion plus.

But even after all of this, after seven years, our commitment isn't through. There are still 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq for support and training. They're set to be there through the end of next year. And sadly, in that time more of them likely will die.

In many ways, Iraq is still a mess. The country racked with violence, political instability. They haven't been able to form a government five months after recent elections. They regularly still suffer from shortages of things like water and electricity.

Meanwhile, George W. Bush's closest ally when it came to the war in Iraq, Tony Blair, is out with his memoir containing emotional passages about the war. The former prime minister admits that the U.S. and Britain didn't anticipate what he called the nightmare that unfolded when Saddam Hussein was toppled from power or the role that Iran and al Qaeda would eventually play.

Blair writes that he has shed many tears over the loss of life and yet, quote, "I cannot regret the decision to go to war. You can't," unquote. Blair says he is devoting a large part of the life left to him to Middle East peace.

The thing about the war in Iraq is it seems nearly impossible to put a finger on exactly what was accomplished, doesn't it? The population remains divided along tribal lines just like it has been for centuries and likely will remain for centuries to come. Of course, there's all that oil.

Here is the question -- What exactly did the U.S. gain by going to war in Iraq? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: That's an excellent question, Jack. I'll be fascinated to hear what our viewers think. Thank you.

The former U.S. Army intelligence analyst accused of spilling top-secret information to WikiLeaks has a new lawyer. Private Bradley Manning has hired David Coombs to head up his defense team, and Coombs is talking to our own Brian Todd. Brian is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

He is a civilian attorney, right? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and we spoke to David Coombs just after he met with his client in a holding facility in Quantico, Virginia.

Mr. Coombs has the task of being the newly hired attorney for Army Private Bradley Manning, the former intelligence analyst who is at the center of the WikiLeaks case. Some are calling this the biggest leak since the Pentagon Papers on Vietnam.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): An incident which leads the U.S. military to issue a statement of regret, An American helicopter gunship accidentally strikes civilians in Iraq in 2007; two journalists are among those killed.

The footage is posted years later on the WikiLeaks website. The man charged with leaking this video is now at the center of another investigation. A probe into one of the largest intelligence leaks in U.S. history.

How did tens of thousands of classified documents on the Afghanistan war make their way on to WikiLeaks this summer? Army Private Bradley Manning has not been formally charged in that case, WikiLeaks hasn't divulged its source, but military officials have told CNN, Manning is the prime suspect.

Manning's attorney, David Coombs, spoke to us right after meeting with his client at a facility in Quantico, Virginia.

(on camera): Did he leak those documents?

DAVID COOMBS, PFC. BRADLEY MANNING'S ATTORNEY: I have not talked to my client about that. I've not seen anything nor have I heard anything that would definitively tie him to that.

TODD (voice-over): The papers on Afghanistan, which WikiLeaks calls the Afghan War Diaries, deal with matters from the hunt for Osama bin Laden to civilian deaths.

Pentagon brass has said this about WikiLeaks and its source --

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: The truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.

TODD (on camera): Admiral Mullen has said whoever committed these leaks could have blood on their hands. What's your reaction to it? What's your client's reaction?

COOMBS: That's really why I'm here today, Brian, to address what I view as very highly charged rhetoric.

Now when you take a look at this, the Pentagon themselves has acknowledged that the Afghan War Diaries, there is nothing new or illuminating. This type of rhetoric is really designed to affect Manning's ability to get a fair trial.

TODD: Contacted by CNN, a Pentagon official disagreed with that characterization and said no one in the Pentagon's senior leadership has publicly associated the WikiLeaks material with any member of the U.S. military.

Coombs also hinted about ways he may defend his client, mentioning that Manning's Army unit knew of some erratic behavior on his part while he was deployed in Iraq before the leaks occurred and before he was charged.

(on camera): You indicated they took the bolt from his weapon. What other behavior did he exhibit that led them to be so concerned about his health?

COOMBS: Well I've only seen very limited documentation of the mental concern by the unit, but his immediate supervisor did document prolonged periods of disassociated behavior, quite a bit of non- responsiveness from PFC. Manning.

And again, that progressed from the very beginning in the deployment and deteriorated somewhat towards the end of his time there in May of 2010.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Coombs told me aside from removing the bolt on his weapon and sending him to a chaplain, Manning's Army unit did virtually nothing to help him. A Pentagon official I spoke to would not comment on that, Wolf.

BLITZER: You've seen and I know I've seen these reports that he's on suicide watch right now, Manning.

TODD: He was on suicide watch, according to David Coombs. Coombs now says that that has been lifted, he is seeing a forensic psychiatrist and Coombs says he is being treated with medication for depression and sleeplessness which he says he is responding well to.

The disposition of the case is moving very slowly. He is being seen by military specialists on mental health right now. Then they're going to determine whether to charge him with court-martial.

BLITZER: And the argument that the Pentagon has made is that there were names of allies, of U.S. military personnel, Afghani names, for example, mentioned in these documents were released and now their lives are endangered because he released these names supposedly, allegedly on the WikiLeaks documents.

TODD: That is correct. And Coombs has acknowledged there are names in those documents, but he said their names are spelled phonetically and whoever wants to, I guess, follow those people and try to find them really couldn't do it based on you what see in the documents. That's his claim.

BLITZER: That may not work necessarily. TODD: May not.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

We're standing by for live remarks from the president of the United States. He is about to walk into the Rose Garden over at the White House. You're looking at these live pictures. He'll talk about what has started in Washington today, the Middle East peace talks.

We're going to bring that to you as soon as we see the president walk out of the Oval Office into the Rose Garden, stand by.

Also, the breaking news, Hurricane Earl has just been upgraded to a powerful Category 4 storm. This is a monster and it's posing a growing threat to the eastern seaboard of the United States. We'll have the latest forecast, that's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon, everybody.

Upon taking office, I declared that America is a friend of each nation and every person who seeks a future of peace and dignity and that the United States was ready to lead in pursuit of that future.

At the beginning of my administration, I stated that it was our policy to actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as a comprehensive way to peace between Israel and all of its Arab neighbors.

And to support my outstanding Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's leadership, I appointed special envoy and one of our nation's finest statesmen, former Senator George Mitchell, to guide our efforts.

As I've said many times our goal is a two-state solution that ends the conflict and ensures the rights and security of both Israelis and Palestinians. And despite the inevitable challenges, we have never wavered in pursuit of this goal.

I have met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on many occasions. Between them, Secretary Clinton and Senator Mitchell have made countless trips to the region.

Over the past year, both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority have taken important steps to build confidence. And with Senator Mitchell's support, Israelis and Palestinians have engaged in several rounds of proximity talks even in the face of difficult circumstances.

But we've always made it clear that the only path to lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians is direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Tomorrow, after nearly two years, the parties will relaunch those direct talks. Today, I had a series of very productive meetings with key partners in this effort. I urged Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas to recognize this as a moment of opportunity that must be seized. I thanked President Mubarak of Egypt and His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan for their valuable leadership and for the support that will be necessary going forward. And I look forward to hosting these four leaders at a private working dinner at the White House tonight.

I also want to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to many friends and allies, especially our quartet partners and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be joining us as representing the quartet at the dinner this evening.

The purpose of these talks is clear. These will be direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. These negotiations are intended to resolve all final status issues. The goal is a settlement negotiated between the parties that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish state of Israel and its other neighbors. That's the vision we are pursuing.

I know these talks have been greeted in some quarters with skepticism. We are under no illusions. Passions run deep. Each side has legitimate and enduring interests. Years of mistrust will not disappear over night. Building confidence will require pains taking diplomacy and trust by the parties. There is a reason the two state solution has eluded previous generations. This is extraordinarily complex and difficult. But we know that the status quo is unsustainable for Israelis, for Palestinians, for the region and for the world. It is in the national interests of all involved including the United States that this conflict be brought to a peaceful conclusion.

So even as we are clear eyed about the challenges ahead, so, too, do we see the foundation for progress. The Israeli government and Palestinian authority are already cooperating on a daily basis to increase security and reduce violence and improve conditions on the ground. Among the Israeli and Palestinian publics there is wide support for a two-state solution. The broad outlines of which are well known to both peoples. Even in the midst of discord, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians, faith leaders, civil society groups, doctors, scientists, businessmen, students, find ways to work together every day. Their heroic efforts at the grass roots show that cooperation and progress is possible and should inspire us all.

In addition, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas are two leaders who I believe want peace. Both sides indicated these negotiations can be completed within one year. And as I told each of them today, this moment of opportunity may not soon come again. They cannot afford to let it slip away. Now is the time for leaders of courage and vision to deliver the peace that their people deserve.

The United States will put our full weight behind this effort. We will be an active and sustained participant. We will support those who make difficult choices in pursuit of peace. But let me be very clear. Ultimately the United States cannot impose a solution and we cannot want it more than the parties themselves. There are enormous risks involved here for al the parties concerned but we cannot do it for them. We can create the environment and the atmosphere for negotiations. But ultimately, it's going to require the leadership on both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides as well as those in the region who say they want a Palestinian state. A lot of times I hear from those who insist that this is a top priority and yet do very little to actually support efforts that could bring about Palestinian state.

So only Israelis and Palestinians can make the difficult choices and build the consensus at home for progress. Only Israelis and Palestinians can prove to each other their readiness to end this conflict and make the compromises upon which lasting peace deserves. What the rest of us can do including the United States is to support those conversations, support those talks, support those efforts. Not try to undermine them.

So the hard work is only beginning. Neither success nor failure is inevitable but this much we know. If we do not make the attempt, then failure is guaranteed. If both sides do not commit to these talks in earnest then the long standing conflict will only continue to fester and consume another generation. This we simply cannot allow. We know there will be moments that test our resolve. We know extremists and enemies of peace will do everything in their power to destroy this effort. As we saw in the heinous attacks near Hebron, which we have strongly condemned.

We also know this. Too much blood has been shed. Too many lives have already been lost. Too many hearts have already been broken. Despite what the cynics say, history teaches us that there is a different path. It is the path of resolve and determination where compromise is possible and old conflicts at long last can end. It is the path traveled by those who brought peace to their countries from Northern Ireland where Senator Mitchell was so deeply involved to the Balkans, to Africa, Asia, to those who forged peace between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Jordan. This path is open to Israelis and Palestinians if al sides persevere in good faith and with a sense of purpose and possibility we can build a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: The president of the United States with the secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the special middle east negotiator George Mitchell the former U.S. senator in the rose garden the president insisting this moment of opportunity may not come again. He says the parties must seize this moment of opportunity right now and begin a one-year process of direct, face-to-face negotiations that will result he says with the goal ending the occupation that began in 1967 at a two-state solution, Palestine along what he said would be the Jewish state of Israel. All of these words are powerful. They resonate deeply with the Israelis and the Palestinians. Let's assess what we've just heard from the president of the United States, Gloria Borger our senior political analyst is here. So is John King. David Gergen is joining us as well. David, you've been involved in this process when you served four U.S. presidents. This is a dramatic moment. Tomorrow the secretary of state formally kicks of the direct face-to-face negotiations, something that hasn't occurred in almost two years.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It is a dramatic moment, Wolf. We have to be cautioned and tempered of course by the experiences of past presidents. So many have tried. No one has come up with the full answer. President carter deserves an awful lot of credit for what happened during his period of time and other presidents have contributed. But this is a moment where I seem to have gotten off to a smooth start today. The meeting with prime minister Netanyahu apparently went well. I think one has to give credit to the president. But it is also a moment of some peril because if these talks fail, and there are many who believe they will fail, it could actually be a serious setback to the situation in the Middle East. It could be destabilizing. The president has a lot riding on the line. This president seems to go, doesn't he, from one major challenge to the next. They don't seem to stop.

BLITZER: Right. If yourself talking about Iraq and Afghanistan, a crisis with Iran as we know and of course the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, these issues, John King, are enormous. I thought it was significant that the president brought King Abdulla of Jordan, the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to Washington as well to help give the Palestinian president some cover.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Very significant. Also significant that gentle shot he took at others in the region who he said always say they support a Palestinian state but don't seem ready to do the hard work to make it happen. You could take that as hello Saudi Arabia, hello Syria. You could take it as a hello to the others in the region who the president knows could undermine these negotiations through any number of actions. David mentioned jimmy carter. That was 32 years ago, Wolf. 32 years ago the historic peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. Since then every president has tried.

We both covered Bill Clinton. He got as close as any president has ever come to getting the Israelis and Palestinians to put ink to paper to a peace deal and it collapsed in the end. In part, one of the important reasons, said the regional partners, in part, not the only reason but in the end when Arafat started to waver a little bit the president then Bill Clinton could not get the Egyptians and the Jordanians and others to nudge him along because they complained they had not been involved at the beginning. They didn't know the details. So that was one of the reasons they had difficulties at the end. But none of the significant issues, the final status issues, Jerusalem, right to return, the borders, none of those are resolved and you have two leaders in a very weak position at home going into these negotiations. Most say that means it won't happen but others say sometimes when you're weak you cut a deal.

BLITZER: Gloria, it looks like President Obama has patched up his relationship with the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu especially today when he came out following that meeting to make that strong statement condemning the murder of those four Israelis on the west bank. GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I was talking to somebody in the administration about that today who said, yes, they have. But don't over state what the personal relationships have to do with this. If their goals, their political goals are the same and they both understand that the ultimate goal here really is to deal with Iran. And in that sense, Wolf, they're both on the same page. What the white house would like to do is to clear the decks here essentially and that's, you know, again, very, very difficult to do. Can't understate it but of course Israel wants to deal with Iran's nuclear capability and so does the United States. So in that sense, they had very much a shared interest.

BLITZER: We'll see how the talks actually proceed. Tomorrow over at the state department, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton will start this process. She will sit down together with the Israelis and the Palestinians, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. She will start that meeting. We're then told she will leave and let the two leaders themselves, the Israeli and the Palestinian leaders begin these conversations which the president of the United States says should take about a year. We'll see if this works out or doesn't. All right. We'll continue to watch this story. There is other important news we're watching as well including a political unknown scoring a stunning victory in Alaska after being packed by the tea party movement.

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BLITZER: Let's get right to our strategy session. Joining us right now the Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons and the Republican strategist, our CNN political contributor, Mary Matalin. Guys, take a look at these Gallup poll numbers which are coming in and Jamal it's getting from bad to worse for the Democrats right now. If you take a look who in Congress would do a better job handling the following issues on terrorism? The Republican advantage is 24 percent. On immigration the Republican advantage is 15 percent. Federal spending 15 percent. The economy 11 percent. The Democrats have a slight advantage on health care and a much bigger advantage on the environment but on the most important issues out there, right now, the Democrats look, they're in so much trouble looking toward the November 2nd, mid term election.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You're right. It is a very tough environment for Democrats but the good news is that elections aren't held between generic Democrats and generic Republicans. The elections are held between an individual Democrat with the record and an individual Republican with a record. Those of us in the Democratic Party have been asking Republicans to offer their ideas and don't just be the party of no but asking them to offer ideas to the country. What have we heard so far? We've heard they want to fire Obama officials, investigate Obama policies with Darrell Issa. They want to privatize social security and now borrow more money from the Chinese to give Bush tax cuts to the rich. So, you know, Democrats want to run this campaign based on issues and I think in individual races that's going to matter.

BLITZER: Mary, what do you say about this? MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I'm saying maybe Jamal is hearing that but that's not what the voters are hearing. In poll after poll including ones where Stan Greenburg the Democratic pollster and the Republican pollster did one and the message was echoed in the 13 big Senate races, last month, showing the same thing. The specific Republican solutions that Jamal is not hearing but voters are clearly hearing are beating in every case Democratic positions. Furthermore, the Democratic pollsters are telling Democratic candidates to specifically not run on their records, to not run on Obama care. So that doesn't lead them to do anything except attack their opponents and that's not flying either. It's just going to be one of those seismic shifts this fall.

BLITZER: Hold on a second. Our CNN political producer Shannon Travis is joining us on the phone right now. He's in Anchorage, Alaska, where there have been dramatic developments overnight, Shannon. Tell our viewers about Joe Miller. He is going to be the Republican senatorial nominee. He beat the incumbent Lisa Murkowski in a close election. He of course had the strong backing of Sarah Palin, the former governor.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: That's right, Wolf. It seems like the ground is just starting to settle after the shock wave that basically rolled through here last night. Let's talk about today. Right now Joe Miller's campaign, I got of the phone with him a while ago. They said that they are raring to go for the general election. They're gearing up, not taking anything for granted. Despite the fact that the Democratic challenger, the Sitka mayor Scott McAdams is badly trailing in some of the initial polls but the Miller campaign says they are not taking anything for granted. They will be out there seeking to firm up conservative support but also seeking independents and Democrats. On the other hand I also spoke with the Democratic Party, the arm that helps elect Democrats to the Senate and they said this gives them an opening. Having Joe Miller in this race gives them an opening to actually take this seat is what they think.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. But let's bring back Jamal Simmons and Mary Matalin. Jamal, it certainly looks like Joe Miller, a graduate of West Point, the Yale law school, he's a pretty attractive candidate. He's a handsome young man as you could see. He seems to have quite a following for someone that most of us never heard of, including in Alaska only a few weeks ago.

SIMMONS: Well, I'll leave his physical attributes up to you, Wolf. But I think he does look like a good candidate. You know, Alaska is tough. A lot of people I know worked with Tony Knowles who should have been able to beat Lisa Murkowski before. I do think we have a chance here that we didn't have before. But it's a tough environment. There are some other states like, you know, Kentucky, with Rand Paul or Indiana with Dan Coats the former lobbyist but I think we probably have a stronger case and I'd like to see Democrats focus on those places also.

BLITZER: Mary, you think that the Democratic candidate in Alaska has a shot against this young guy? MATALIN: Let me just say I think Jamal is every bit as handsome as our new candidate up there in Alaska. Look, all of these seats are these newcomers --

BLITZER: I'm sorry to interrupt you for a second because there is a news conference in Silver Spring, Maryland updating us on this incident that we watched for much of the afternoon today. I want to go listen in briefly and hear what they're saying.

This is I believe the police chief.

Chief Manger?

CHIEF TOM MANGER, MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT: I think most of you have the background on what occurred. We had a man come into Discovery about 1:00 this afternoon. He came in with explosive devices strapped to his person. We believe that he also came in with two boxes and two backpacks that we suspect may have explosive devices in them. He pulled out a hand gun and may have been fired a round when he came in. We're in the process of trying to confirm that. Told everyone to stop moving. Several people ran out of the lobby area. In the end he had three hostages, a security other individuals. All three male. The hostages were all male. Over the course of the next several hours, we, our trained negotiators spoke with this man. He, at obviously had a number of issues with Discovery. He's had a history with Discovery of conflict with Discovery which would actually one case resulted in his arrest a couple of years ago, right out in front of the building.

As we were negotiating with him, our tactical officers were able to get into position where they were very close to him. They were watching him via camera, and they were close enough to hear what he was saying and see what he was doing on a camera. At one point, the suspect reported that he had pulled out the handgun that he came in with, and pointed it at one of the hostages. It is unconfirmed now whether he actually fired the weapon or not. But at this point, our tactical units moved in. They shot the suspect. The suspect is deceased. The hostages were all safely, were able to safely get out of the building. And at this point, we still have what we believe are four devices or two boxes or two backpacks that we have to determine whether they are explosive devices, and get them safely removed. So, the building is still a crime scene. We still have work to do, but as I said before, to our knowledge no one aside from the suspect has been injured and the hostages were able to get out safely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long, chief did you --

DAVID LEVI, DISCOVERY COMMUNICATIONS: Thanks, Captain. Let me say on behalf of Discovery Communications, thank you. Thank you so much to law enforcement, and both Montgomery county fire and rescue, and Montgomery County police. Sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you spell your name for us?

LEVI: David Levi from the Discovery Communications. On behalf of the company, thank you to Montgomery law enforcement, and fire and rescue. It was incredibly professional rescue, and they were in constant communications with us, and they handled themselves with complete professionalism, and we are relieved that it ended without any harm to our employees. All of our employees are accounted for. And let me also say that it is the word of the day is professionalism. A big thank you to Discovery's administration and resources and security staff. We executed our emergency evacuation plan flawlessly, and employees were notified and exited the building and everyone is accounted for and safe and sound and we are thankful for that. Again, thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: David, do you know -- [ inaudible ].

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The security guard, was he armed?

LEVI: Well, I will defer to the captain on any questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has been outside of the building on previous occurrences?

LEVI: Yes, we were familiar with this gentleman, because he has been in front of the building before in Discovery. We have a security team 24/7 and I can't go through everything today, but you will see that the Discovery communications staff handled themselves brilliantly, and part of the success of today, a lot goes to Montgomery law enforcement and fire and rescue and the FBI, but also the Discovery communications security staff who handled themselves well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe that the hostages were selected randomly?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us more about what his grievances were against Discovery, and can you tell us more about the hostages, were they male or female?

LEVI: Two employees and one security officer. I will defer to the captain, because it is an ongoing investigation. You know, I don't want to characterize really the motivations of the perpetrator. If you follow what he said public online, I don't think it is rational. We certainly were cognizant and aware of him, but we did not take his demands or threats seriously.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And David, you said you had a lot of communication throughout the day, and you said that the evacuation procedure, was that put in place post 9/11 or because of this gentleman or why did you this evacuation plan?

LEVI: Post 9/11 we spent a lot of time talking about continuity plans and emergency evacuation plans and we had those in place, and we do have annual drills to go over the procedures. We have a floor captain. They were notified right away. All of the employees were secured. Then with the cooperation of law enforcement we evacuated the employees and the on site day care center, and again, that planning really paid off today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could either of you tell us about the demands he made or --

MANGER: Most of the demands he made during our negotiations with him mirrored what he has on his website.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you elaborate?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have his name or date of birth?

MANGER: I don't have that information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he was shot, chief, did the hostages exit from their own --

BLITZER: Well, that is the police chief of Montgomery County telling us that the suspect in the case, James Lee, 43 years old was shot and killed by police officers as he was holding three hostages. He had two other individuals there as well. This incident is now clearly over, although, there out of an abundance of caution going through the backpacks and other material he brought into the Discovery communications headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. We will stay on top of the story, and if there is more information, but as of now, an incident that caused enormous concern for the United States, that incident is now over.

Over to Jack Cafferty right now for the Cafferty file, Jack?

CAFFERTY: And it ended the way it is supposed to, the bad guy is dead and the hostages are free and safe. Good for them. Question this hour, what exactly did the U.S. gain by going to war in Iraq?

Bonnie writes, "We gained Obama as the president. Very poor trade I'd say."

Gordon in New Jersey, "Gain -- I can't think of a thing, not one, and even getting rid of a monster like Saddam is a double-edged sword that has greatly benefited our enemies in Iran. And the Iraq war derailed the military and political initiative against the real 9/11 enemies in Afghanistan and Pakistan and over 5,000 American soldiers, contractors and hundreds of British and Australian and other allies and quarter of a million Iraqis all dead. If there is a hell I can only think that Bush and Cheney and the others who engineered this war of choice will one day get to meet Saddam there."

Jim writes, "I do believe that when we went to war with Iraq, it sent a shivering message to the Muslim world, and the message being, don't mess with us, because we didn't care where you are, or who you are, and keep it up and you will see us coming."

Ann in Charleston, South Carolina said, "I don't think the U.S. gained anything, at least looking at it from the perspective of the present time. Maybe history will find a benefit. The Iraqi people are freed from an evil dictator. They now have the opportunity to build a better government. Time will tell whether they are able to accomplish enough agreement among themselves to govern."

James say, "The answer is the same as what did the United States gain from the Vietnam War."

Frank writes, "As a country, nothing. Ask Dick Cheney and Halliburton what they gained."

And Stacy says, "We didn't gain a thing. In time, Iraq will find another Saddam to rule, and that is the way it has to be the three tribes in the country. All of those men and women died or were hurt for nothing. I am a big fan of Obama's, but last night, he sounded as stupid as Bush."

If you want to read more on this, you will find it on my blog CNN.com/CaffertyFile. And the consensus is we didn't accomplish a hell of a lot.

BLITZER: Not surprised, Jack.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now from North Carolina to New England, people are being urged to get ready for Hurricane Earl. Back up to a category 4 and that is a monster. The storm packs a powerful punch, but it will strike hard or just throw a scare into the east coast of the United States? We have the latest forecast, stand by.

President Obama brings Middle East leaders to the white house for a high profile launch of direct peace talks. Will the Israelis and the Palestinians take advantage of what the president calls a window of opportunity?

And that hostage standoff at the head quarters of the Discovery Channel right outside of Washington, D.C. ends in a shooting.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.