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THE SITUATION ROOM

Florida Pastor Won't Burn Korans Saturday; Donald Trump Offers to Buy Out Investor in NYC Mosque Site; SoHo Properties Tells CNN Muslim Community Center is Not Being Moved

Aired September 9, 2010 - 17:00   ET

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


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Here now is THE SITUATION ROOM.

Wolf's off.

Guess who's picking it up for him?

None other than Suzanne Malveaux.

Take it away -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, HOST: Thanks, Rick.

Happening now, new inquiry and reaction to a Florida pastor's plan to burn Korans on 9/11. The Taliban are seizing on the story and threatening to target Christians. And the Obama White House is considering new action to try to defuse the situation.

Plus, new word from Iran about the fate of the American hikers jailed for more than a year. We're learning that one of them may be released very soon.

And protesters and clash in Los Angeles -- this hour, why the police shooting of an immigrant worker is unleashing so much anger within the Latino community.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

MALVEAUX: We have some breaking news right now, some extraordinary developments here.

I want to go straight to Pastor Jones.

As you know, he's in Gainesville, Florida.

He's at the center of this controversy. He has threatened to burn Korans, the holy book of Islam, on Saturday, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. We have just learned through -- through a statement that he made, quite frankly, before cameras and stunned reporters, that all of this is changed, that he has cancelled his plans, that, in fact, he will not go ahead and burn those Korans, as he has threatened to do, that, according to him, he received some sort of a sign from God -- that sign being the fact that he actually spoke with the imam who has been proposing to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the site of Ground Zero; that the two of them have discussed this, and that imam says that he will move the location and the site. And so, therefore, this will not take place.

I want you to take a listen.

REV. TERRY JONES, WORLD OUTREACH CENTER: We thank you for coming.

You will have to bear with us, or especially me, if, during this announcement, I get a little bit emotional. This has been, of course, for us a very, very difficult, trying time. We have been in very much thought and prayer over this whole period.

A lot of times we were asked, what would it take to call this thing off?

Well, we have thought it over many times. We felt very convinced that we should do this. We thought about what -- what would have to happen for us to call our event off?

As we prayed about that, in the past, we did have one idea, that this idea we put out in prayer to God, that a -- that if he would want us to call this off, if we have accomplished our goal, then our thought was the American people do not, as a whole, want the mosque at the Ground Zero location; that if they were willing to either cancel the mosque at the Ground Zero location or if they were willing to move that location -- if they were willing to move it away from that location, we would consider that a sign from God.

We have -- or he has -- been in contact with the imam in New York City. I with the imam here. I -- with the imam here -- I will be flying up there on Saturday to meet with the imam at the Ground Zero mosque. He has agreed to move the location. That, of course, cannot happen overnight, but he has agreed to move that. We felt that that would be a sign that God would want us to do it. The American people do not want the mosque there. And, of course, Moslems do not want us to burn the Koran.

The imam has agreed to move the mosque. We have agreed to cancel our event on Saturday. And on Saturday, I will be flying up there to meet with him.

IMAM MUHAMMAD MUSRI, ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA: Good afternoon.

Thank you.

And thank you, Pastor Jones. We have -- all have been witnessing this play out for several weeks. And many of you know that, in a few hours, the Muslim world will be celebrating the Eid al-Fitr festival -- the end of the month of Ramadan and hundreds of millions of people would be listening to sermons. And the message that would have dominated those sermons would have been the burning of the Koran in the United States.

I have conveyed my deep concerns to Pastor Jones and the gravity of the situation. And because he does not like to see anyone get hurt because of an action being taken here, and because I, like many Americans, Muslims and non, feel that the placement of a mosque near the Ground Zero location is unnecessary and it has become a clear provocation to many people to be violent against mosques across the nation, I have made, this morning, contact with the office of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and got the commitment to fly up to New York and meet with him, in the company of Pastor Jones, to discuss and come to a decision on relocating the mosque in New York.

We are committed to dissolving the situation here and there.

I want to thank Pastor Jones for his courage and his willingness to take these serious events that are unfolding, to take into consideration the safety of our troops across the world and the safety of all Americans traveling or doing business abroad, and to also consider the safety of all people, including Muslims, and to step back from his position and to be in line with scripture to love your neighbor as yourself.

And I want to thank him and his church members and his leadership for making the decision today to defuse this situation and bring to a positive end what has become, the world over, a spectacle that no one would benefit from except extremists and terrorists, who would have used this to recruit even more young people -- impressionable people -- to become future radicals.

I want to send a message today to the Muslim world that the United States still and will always be the place where people of all faiths and all colors can co-exist in peace, that the rights of Muslims in this country are respected and that of all other religions.

As American Muslim leader, I believe that this is the best place to live on Earth. And I feel strongly about that. I want the Muslims, on this day, when they are going to celebrate one of the holiest days in the year in our calendar, Eid al-Fitr, that the country we call home, the United States of America, is a wonderful country and its people are the finest people.

QUESTION: Do you call this a triumph of faith, sir?

MUHAMMAD: And we -- we call on all Muslims around the world to follow the teachings of Muhammad and the Koran and to stop the hatred and radicalism that has given our religion a bad name.

I stand for Islam. I stand for peace. And I call on my brothers and sisters the world over to stand with me in the face of all radicals. This event was not meant for all of this, but I'm glad that it has resulted in a good outcome.

I want to thank you again.

And Pastor Jones has expressed his desire to return back to his church without answering questions. And I respect his wish.

I'll be available for answering questions in five minutes.

Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Well, you heard it there, really an extraordinary development in this story, very much a surprise on all sides -- the Reverend Terry Jones making a deal -- cutting a deal, if you will, with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who had actually planned and had decided that they wanted to go ahead -- move forward with trying to construct an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the site of Ground Zero. You had Reverend Jones, who said that he was threatening to burn Korans Saturday, on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Apparently, Reverend Jones now saying that he has spoken with the imam. Both of them will be meeting on Saturday. The Reverend Jones now saying that he has cancelled his plans -- this type of protest to burn these Korans.

This, as you know, has caused tremendous consternation among many people really at the highest levels of the Obama administration, international police agency, Interpol, the State Department, so many different agencies that have gotten involved.

I want to bring in our John Zarrella, who is actually there at the site in Gainesville, Florida, where the pastor is, where we saw that other imam spoking -- speaking, rather.

What do we know about some of the back channels that took place to actually make this happen -- John, do you know?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, yes. You know, it's interesting, Suzanne. A couple of hours ago, I talked to Imam Musri, who is the imam here. He is the imam who is one of the leaders of all of the imams here in the Central Florida area. And he went inside very briefly and came out very quickly. He said he did not get a chance to actually talk, at that point, with Pastor Jones.

But he said that his message to Pastor Jones was that they were -- there was a willingness to talk about perhaps moving the mosque in the -- the cultural center in New York if this burning did not take place on Saturday. So there was some -- some discussion of that going on, as well.

Now, he apparently went back in a couple of hours later and then they came out with this agreement.

But I have to tell you, Suzanne, in my conversations with Imam Musri, he said he did not talk directly with the imam in New York, Imam Rauf in New York, but that he talked with someone else there. But they did, apparently, get enough assurances that there was a willingness to at least discuss moving the cultural center in -- in New York, that this agreement could be ironed out today that would call off this burning of Korans, and that Jones and Imam Musri would then fly to New York on Saturday to meet with the imam there and to try and apparently iron out an iron clad agreement to go ahead and move the cultural center.

Jones, just a few minutes ago, said, also, that he was assured and he was "guaranteed," in his words, that the cultural center in New York would be moved. Those were Jones' words just a few minutes ago, saying that he has taken the word of Imam Musri here that that will, indeed, happen.

He also said that he did get a call from Secretary Gates a little while ago, also asking him to please stand-down. Now, we don't have that confirmed, but Jones did say that, that Secretary Gates called him and asked him to please stand-down from this burning of the Korans on Saturday -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: John, do we know if the decision was made after Secretary Gates reached out and called Reverend Jones? Do we know if that was one of the things he was considering, or had he made up his mind before?

ZARRELLA: No, we do not know the exact timeframe of how all that transpired, only that at some point this afternoon he did receive a call, he says, from Secretary Gates, but we do not know if that came before -- assuming it came before this agreement was worked out because -- because Jones said that -- that Secretary Gates was still in a position of asking him not to do it. So I assume that the decision had not been made yet not to do it at the time that he talked -- talked with Gates.

But, you know, the huge news, of course, out of all of this is that he is going to be flying with Imam Musri to New York on Saturday, apparently, as Jones says, to iron out final details of an agreement that would allow for the moving of that cultural center.

So just an incredible change of events here.

MALVEAUX: And, John, just to be clear, do we know that reverend Jones directly talked to Imam Feisal Rauf, or was there an intermediary, as the person that we saw there, Imam Mohamed Musri? Was he the person who actually had the conversation?

ZARRELLA: He was the intermediary, Imam Musri. Jones did not talk directly to the imam in New York.

And in fact, Imam Musri, when I talked to him, and we still don't have that clear, said to me he talked to someone in the imam's office in New York. He did not talk directly to the imam in New York, but had assurances from the people he talked with at the imam's office in New York that the imam was open, was open to moving the cultural center.

So that's -- that's about as clear as we were able to get out of it so far.

MALVEAUX: OK. Final question here, John, before I throw this to somebody else.

But what do we know about Imam Mohamed Musri, with the Islamic Society of Central Florida? He is now acting as somewhat of a go- between between these two men?

ZARRELLA: Yes. What I know about him is simply that he is a very powerful imam here in central Florida, head of the cultural center. He's out of Orlando, Florida, and he's quite influential. In all of the area of central Florida and in much of Florida, in fact, he's one of more influential imams down here.

And apparently, from the way he has talked, at least, he has at least, if not the direct ear of the -- the imam in New York, that he at least is fairly close to him.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you, John. Obviously, we'll be getting back to you. Please let us know if there's any other developments, significant developments.

Clearly, this is a story that is just unfolding. It really is a dramatic turn of events here, potentially staving off a lot of conflict and anxiety about just the 9/11 anniversary.

I want to go to Mary Snow who is actually in New York. I understand, Mary, you've got some information about the site that is near Ground Zero, about where this Islamic cultural center and mosque would be built, potentially a deal here that would mean that this is moved.

What do we know?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, before we get to that potential deal, I also want to point out that we've made calls to try and get reaction from Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. A representative at his office has said that many people were off today or off at this hour because of the holiday, this is the end of Ramadan. So we're efforting reaction from the imam.

But on another front, we have some developing news. We've gotten a letter from Donald Trump, and this is confirming that he is trying to buy out a major investor at that site at 45 Park Place, Park 51, as this Islamic community center is now known. He is offering one of the major investors in this site to purchase the site plus 25 percent.

Now, in this letter, and I think we may have a graphic of this, he says, "I am making this offer as a resident of New York and citizen of the United States, not because I think the location is a spectacular one," and he points out, "because it is not, but because it will end a very serious, inflammatory and highly divisive situation that is destined in my opinion to only get worse."

Now in this offer he is saying that if this does happen, this would be a cash offer, and it says, "If you or your representatives are to build a mosque, it would be located at least five blocks further away from the World Trade Center."

Now, we're also trying to effort reaction from this investor, but it comes on the heels -- there was an article in today's "New York Post," and this investor had said I will sell the site. He's ready to pull the plug saying he's ready to sell all or some of the site, if the price is right.

So this developing news now, this offer now on the table from Donald Trump.

MALVEAUX: Do we know if Donald Trump has any relationship at all? Does he know developers of this project? Does he know the imam? Why is he coming forward?

SNOW: At this point, we do not know about any kind of existing relationship except for what he explained in this letter, that he's doing this as a citizen, in his words, of the United States and as a resident of New York.

MALVEAUX: Do we know where Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is today? We know that he had a very extensive interview with Soledad yesterday. Do we know if he's responding or reacting to this?

SNOW: Right, at this point we don't know where he is. We have called his office, we're trying to get reaction from him. A representative has said because the holiday is today, it's the end of Ramadan, that the office was emptied out this afternoon. But we are efforting word from him.

MALVEAUX: It's interesting, yesterday, in the interview with Soledad, he did offer an olive branch. He did say that he felt that he would be open, to a certain extent, of perhaps moving the site of the Islamic center and the mosque because of the controversy. That there was a sense of regret that he had that he didn't realize this would cause so much pain and anxiety among a lot of people who have been talking about this.

Do we have a sense that this is perhaps an opening, this is a way that Donald Trump can seize on this potential opening and see some sort of negotiating point here?

SNOW: Yes. It would appear to be some sort of an opening having this outside party now step in saying here might be a solution. And as he pointed out, he said if this property is bought, and he was offering cash plus 25 percent, that the -- that the site would have to be moved further away from the site of Ground Zero.

Not much further away. Right now we know it's just two blocks from Ground Zero, according to this letter, the stipulation would be that would be at least five blocks from Ground Zero. So this is certainly a new development and an offer we have not seen throughout this whole debate.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, Mary. Obviously, if you get anything further, if you reach the imam or Donald Trump even, that would be very helpful. We'll see how all of this is all unfolding. As you know, this store is in unfolding with us minute by minute, essentially dramatic changes in this story of potentially a -- a ceremony from a reverend, an obscure reverend, a pastor out in Florida threatening to burn Korans on the anniversary of 9/11, that is no longer happening according to the reverend, and also the potential here of an Islamic cultural center including a mosque being built close to the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York. Apparently some sort of deal that has been struck between these leaders of these communities, and potentially that site being moved.

We'll have much more of this developing story right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. TERRY JONES, DOVE WORLD OUTREACH CENTER: The imam has agreed to move the mosque. We have agreed to cancel our event on Saturday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: As you see there, Pastor Jones saying that they have struck a deal. We are still working on confirmation from the imam side to see if, in fact, that is true and to hear it directly from him, if that's something that is really happening here, but obviously very dramatic developments to this story.

I want to bring in the best team that we have here. Obviously, Candy Crowley joining me, anchor of "STATE OF THE UNION," also want to bring in our own Dan Lothian, he standing by live at the White House, and David Gergen, our senior political analyst.

I want to start off with you, Candy. Obviously, this has been a bizarre change, a turn of events. I don't think this was something that really any of us expected. It almost looked like the train was out of the station, and there was no way that this was going to stop.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. It never stops until it stops, and I'm not even sure what we've got at the moment. I think we're a long way from what -- it seems to me that the pastor and the imam from Florida said two different things, at least on the nuance, which is basically quite big, and that is did the imam in New York agree to talk about moving it or did he agree to move it? That's the difference between their two versions.

And then you add in the Donald Trump factor, and you do -- it looks like everyone is giving everyone an opportunity to get out of were some very tight corners. And that's generally how deals are made, when you can give people a face-saving way out of walking down a destructive path.

MALVEAUX: This is -- this is a pastor here, we've learned a lot of information about him who was -- belonged to a church in Germany. He was kicked out of this church. He's been seen as very much as having radical views. Has a following of about 30 people or so.

Why should we even take him at face value at this point? I mean, it almost seems as if he's an individual who doesn't have a heck of a lot of credibility.

CROWLEY: Which is why we need to wait and see whether the other side of this story syncs up with his.

And why? Because it's caused such a stir, not just here among the media and among -- I mean, we've had President Obama getting in this, now Secretary Gates getting into this. We heard Colin Powell talk about it on "The View," heard General Petraeus talk about it. We've seen demonstrations on the streets overseas.

So the fact of the matter is it got to a point where maybe if we'd ignored it at first it wouldn't have gotten this far, but we can't ignore it anymore.

MALVEAUX: Hang on, Candy, I want to go to Dan at the White House.

And, Dan, you brought up a very good point. We've gotten threats now from the Taliban saying they were going to go after Christians, innocent people, if this happens or perhaps just the threat alone was putting this -- a lot of people in danger. You've got Interpol saying that they have released this alert to all of their members to beware of possible attacks on the weekend.

Is the White House satisfied now that they can rest assure, or are they still pretty much on high alert?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, the White House has not reacted yet to this news because as you've been pointing out, we're still trying to figure out exactly what the news is.

But nonetheless, whether this took place or didn't happen, U.S. officials believe that a lot of damage has been done. As you pointed out, there have been these protests. There have also been threats. The State Department issuing a travel alert for Americans overseas to be very cautious. And so, there's a sense that even if this goes away and the burning doesn't take place, that there's still that -- that feeling overseas that this one pastor who made these claims and planned to have this ceremony represents all of America.

And that was something that President Obama was really trying to put the brakes on yesterday when he sat down for an interview with ABC News, just pointing out how if this took place it could endanger American troops both in Iraq and Afghanistan. It could have broader consequences, really handing al Qaeda a recruitment tool -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Dan, take us a little bit behind the scenes, because we've heard a lot of statements about this. We heard from the president early this morning, an interview on ABC, and he was saying this was a recruitment bonanza for al Qaeda. And then we also heard from the spokesman at the Pentagon who was suggesting that potentially, you know, the president or some other high-level official will pick up the phone.

Now we know that Secretary Gates did in fact pick up the phone. Are they clear about how they have handled this? Do they feel like they have gotten a handle on what has happened here?

LOTHIAN: You know, I think it's too early in this controversy to really get to the bottom of that question. But you're right. Everybody was really sort of talking about what was going on behind the scenes in terms of deliberations in terms of whether or not to reach out to the reverend.

Now it appears, at least based on his account, that Secretary Gates did reach out to him. Robert Gibbs, who in the briefing today, a briefing that by the way was dominated by this controversy, said that at the White House they were currently sitting down and going over, you know, considering whether or not someone from the White House should reach out directly to him.

Why? Because the White House, again, was very concerned about this issue, saying that it's a hateful act that should never take place again because the fear was that it could endanger the lives of not only service members but also Americans overseas.

MALVEAUX: David, what do you make of what's happened today?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Suzanne, of course, it would be wonderful if both the burning and the mosque were resolved and resolved peacefully, but until we have confirmation from the imam in New York, I would put zero credence, zero credence in the statements we just heard from the pastor. This pastor is a fringe guy. He's -- he lived for publicity. That's oxygen to him. He's a jerk in many ways putting the country through this.

There are informal signs that the imam in New York has not agreed to any of this, so until we hear otherwise from the imam and that's where the confirmation has to come from. I think it has zero credence.

The Donald Trump offer does seem to be more serious. He is a serious player who hats cash, and we do have indications that the developer wants to sell, but I would again caution here that there's an associated press story quoting the developer as saying he's had an offer or maybe offers three times the purchase price, and Donald Trump is offering the purchase price plus 25 percent, so if the developer is to be believed, he have much bigger offers out there. We'll have to wait and see on that story, too.

MALVEAUX: David, I want to ask another question. I'm getting more information as well. I'll follow up on that, but when you take a look at how the Obama administration has handled this situation here, and you mentioned, too, that this guy is a pastor who does not really have very much of a following, very much on the fringe.

Do you think that the Obama administration was in part responsible? Was it the media? Who is at fault here to get it to the point where we are today? GERGEN: Well, I -- I would have preferred -- the president sometimes cannot avoid answering questions, but I would have preferred the president to stay out of this, to stay out of question of the pastor, because I think it just elevates him and gives him more attention. It gives him exactly what he wants which is he's a publicity hound, and I think the White House has in some ways helped elevate this. Maybe they felt they had to because maybe lives were at stake.

We'll have to wait and see about the Gates thing. That also sounds bizarre to me, but beyond that I think we in the media have a lot of questions to ask ourselves. I think we've given this guy, this pastor, a lot of time without -- without, you know -- this is a guy who threatens to do something really stupid, dangerous, hateful, and he gets a national platform for it, so, you know, I think personally -- I hope we can move beyond this pretty quickly and move on to more serious issues.

MALVEAUX: I understand Mary Snow who is in New York has some new information that she would like to share.

Mary, can you tell us what you're learning?

SNOW: Yes. We've been able to reach the developers, Suzanne, and a spokesperson for SoHo Properties, the developers, are telling us that the Muslim community center called Park 51 in lower Manhattan is not being moved.

Now we're trying to reach the imam directly to try to find out about this call from the Florida pastor and also about the -- this offer from Donald Trump, but so far the developers of this community center saying it's not being moved at this point.

MALVEAUX: Mary, we have conflicting stories. I know you're trying to reach the imam on this, and we have a story from Reverend Jones, essentially coming out and making the statement saying that at very least two are going to talk on Saturday in New York, but at least he has announced that there's been some sort of understanding or some sort of deal here. From what you're learning now, we understand that there possibly is no deal, is that right?

SNOW: Right. The developers are saying this center is not being moved. Again, we're trying to get more details about, whether you know, the conversation that he described, we're trying to confirm that, but right now the developers are saying it's staying put.

MALVEAUX: OK. Mary, thank you so much for clearing that up for us. Obviously, we're going to try to make sense in all the moving parts, a fast developing story. A lot of twists and turns here. We'll have more after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Breaking news this hour, a Florida pastor now says he is cancelling his plans to burn Korans this Saturday exactly nine years after the September 11th attacks. The Reverend Terry Jones says that he is now backing down because he claims there is a new agreement to move an Islamic center and mosque set for construction near Ground Zero, but the developers are telling CNN it is not being moved, so we're going to try to contact the imam behind this project.

The Reverend Jones says he's going to travel to New York Saturday to meet with the imam. Jones made the surprise announcement in Florida just a short time ago.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. TERRY JONES, DOVE OUTREACH WORLD CENTER: That if they were willing to either cancel the mosque at the Ground Zero location or if they were willing to move that location -- if they were willing to move it away from that location, we would consider that a sign from God.

We have -- or he has -- been in contact with the imam in New York City. I with the imam here. I -- with the imam here -- I will be flying up there on Saturday to meet with the imam at the Ground Zero mosque. He has agreed to move the location.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: There is still a lot of questions about how this is actually going to play out or whether or not there's even independent confirmation of what Reverend Jones is saying.

Now, we've learned of a new incentive for the Islamic center to be relocated. That is real estate mogul Donald Trump has offered to buy the site for 25 percent more than the current owners paid for it.

I want to go to John Zarrella who is there at the site where the pastor made that statement, and I understand that John has spoken -- you've spoken with the imam there who is really acting as the go- between.

Can you explain, what has he told you about his conversation with the Imam Rauf and the pastor?

ZARRELLA: Well, Suzanne, not only can we explain it. I'm going to bring the imam in here with us live. Clarification for us, we're hearing from the developers in New York that there is no deal, that nothing has been agreed upon.

MUSRI: That's true. What we have is a commitment from the office of the imam for a three-way meeting where myself and the pastor would fly to New York to meet with him, to discuss the plan or the project of moving that project to an ideal location that's not controversial.

ZARRELLA: And you and I spoke earlier in the day, and you said that you felt very confident that the imam in New York was open at least to the idea of moving the location of the cultural center, but had you not spoken with him directly. MUSRI: That's correct. I had not had the privilege to speak to him directly. I heard his full interview last night on CNN where he stated clearly that had he known this location, choosing this location would generate such controversy, he would have considered a different location, and that is clearly telling that he's open to the idea.

But the facts on the ground, where? Where in New York? Where in Manhattan? So those are real issues and questions that have to be answers. I don't have the answers for those, but the people who are calling on the imam in New York to move the mosque, the future project, you know, do not understand that this is complicated. It's not easy.

ZARRELLA: But you have at least assurances that the imam with you and with Pastor Jones Saturday in New York?

MUSRI: Will meet with us, and I had to ask Pastor Jones when he would be available, and he said he is only available Saturday. I had not chance -- had the chance to call New York and confirm the availability for Saturday. I did not reserve tickets yet.

ZARRELLA: Who did you speak with in New York?

MUSRI: I spoke with his wife, Daisy Khan (ph).

ZARRELLA: The imam's wife?

MUSRI: Yes, sir.

ZARRELLA: But have you not worked out a time yet for the Saturday meeting. You're saying you're still not booked your tickets to New York.

MUSRI: That's correct.

ZARRELLA: But you're very hopeful?

MUSRI: I'm hopeful. I think time is of the essence here. I think that it would be appropriate news, decision to be made on Saturday, on the ninth anniversary of the September 11th and put this matter to rest.

ZARRELLA: Are you not at all concerned that this could all fall apart in the 11th hour if the imam in New York decides that he's not going to consider moving this, or are you fairly confident that he is open to at least the discussion?

MUSRI: Of course, there are no written guarantees yet from the imam's side in New York, OK? And I'm not aware of who are all the players in that who make the final decision, but I feel that the imam is very wise imam, very reasonable, have demonstrated over the years his commitment to peace and to bridge-building, and I think now knowing that over 70 percent of the American people are asking of him to relocate it, I think he is considering it, and it's a matter of finding what you call an ideal location where he can achieve his same goals and this controversy. ZARRELLA: Let me ask you quickly. Were you in the room when Pastor Jones supposedly took this call from defense Secretary Gates, or did that happen before or after you met with him?

MUSRI: I was told -- I walked at 4:00 into the church, and he has said that he is waiting on an important call at 4:15. He didn't tell me who it was. Then I said we can talk until then, and when you get the call, I'm willing to step out, and that's what happened. We started talking. At 4:15 he got the call. He asked us to step out of his office, and I waited for a few minutes for him to finish his call privately, and then rejoined him, and we continued our negotiations.

ZARRELLA: Do you have any idea what locations might be considered in New York for moving the cultural center?

MUSRI: Absolutely --

ZARRELLA: No talks with anyone there about that?

MUSRI: No. I'm not from New York. I'm the last one to tell you.

ZARRELLA: Imam, I can't thank you enough for taking time, and I know you're going to be busy the next couple of days as all of this continues to unfold, and, again, thank you so much.

MUSRI: Thank you.

ZARRELLA: Thank you very much for your time.

MALVEAUX: Just keep the imam there for a second.

ZARRELLA: There you go, Suzanne. Suzanne, you have a question.

MALVEAUX: I do.

ZARRELLA: Suzanne Malveaux has a question.

MALVEAUX: Is there a relationship that you have with Imam Rauf or his wife? I mean, do you know each other well? Have you been working together? Why do you feel confident --

ZARRELLA: Is there a relationship that you have with the imam in New York or his wife that makes you feel comfortable that you can broker this deal?

MUSRI: We have a past relationship that goes back several years, but I had absolutely no say or part in the project that he is undertaking, but the stronger relationship I have with him as imam leader of the Muslims in central Florida, over 50,000, and he's an imam so we speak the same language. We can talk the language of our faith and reason together what would the prophet do.

ZARRELLA: Have you discussed the issue of the cultural center with him in recent times? MUSRI: No. I did not get the opportunity at all to talk with him before he was overseas. I made contact this morning to try to speak to him. He wasn't available, and hi to rush up here, and -- but I will, god willing, be speaking to him soon.

ZARRELLA: On Saturday, hopefully.

MUSRI: Hopefully.

ZARRELLA: Suzanne, that -- anything else from you, Suzanne? Any other questions?

MALVEAUX: No, that's quite all right. Thank you. I appreciate the imam's time there.

ZARRELLA: Good, good. Imam, thank you very much for your time. Suzanne, that pretty much puts it in perspective as to where we are with all of this right now.

MALVEAUX: John, I just want to be clear to our viewers here really what we've just learned from the imam there that you just spoke with. He says that he did not talk directly with Imam Rauf, but rather he talked with the imam's wife. He's gotten no kind of commitment or assurance whatsoever that this Islamic cultural center and mosque will be moved. The only thing that he has is our interview that he mentioned with Soledad O'Brien yesterday, the suggestion that the imam perhaps is looking for some sort of wiggle room, a graceful way to get out of this and to negotiate this. Is that correct? Is that your understanding as well?

ZARRELLA: That's absolutely correct, and the only other caveat to that is that the imam in New York may make some time. I don't think that that's clear either, time available on Saturday, to meet with Pastor Jones and to meet with Imam Musri.

MALVEAUX: OK. I want our viewers to take a listen to this section of this interview, an exclusive CNN interview that Soledad O'Brien did just yesterday where she spoke with the imam for a good hour or so, but there was definitely a moment where she pressed him, and it seemed as if there was a possibility that he was open to moving the site of that Islamic cultural center.

Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wouldn't it further the goal of peace-making, and you've talked a lot about it, to move it? Why is that an option that's of the table now?

IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF, FOUNDER & CEO, THE AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR MUSLIM ADVANCEMENT: Nothing is off the table, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: That's not off the table?

RAUF: But we are consulting and talking to various people about how to do this so that we -- we negotiate the best and the safest options. As I mentioned --

O'BRIEN: What's those options like, what's on the table in?

RAUF: It's a national security issue.

O'BRIEN: How do you pull out without making it look like you've lost?

RAUF: Without making it look both in country and in the Muslim world -- you must remember, Soledad, and Americans must remember that what we do is watched all over the world, all over the world, and we are very engaged with the Muslim world, very engaged.

And our security is really number one. Our national security, our personal security is and this issue has become now a national security issue. And therefore in our conversations, in our decision- making process, we have the weigh many, many factors and that has been dominant among them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: So you were listening to the bit of sound there with Soledad O'Brien's interview with the imam there suggesting that there is a face-saving way to get out of this, perhaps, move the site of the Islamic cultural center and mosque.

I want to go to Mary Snow, because you have been following, this, Mary, out of New York and you know the story in and out and the intimate details for all of this and put into perspective for us what we have learned.

SNOW: This really has been a startling number of developments first from the press conference with the pastor saying that he was coming to New York. But we also want to reiterate that the spokesperson for the Muslim community center is saying at this point that this center is not being moved contrary to anything that was said earlier. They are still maintaining that stance that the center is not being moved.

Also, the other development that came of this offer from Donald Trump to buy out one of the major investors in this community center, saying that he would pay the price of this investor had paid plus 25 percent, and the investor is Hasham Al Malheti, and Donald Trump says he is making this offer because he is a resident of New York and citizen of the U.S.

And the condition would be this would be a cash offer for this site known as Park 51, but if a mosque was to be built, it would have to be at least five blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. And right now, where the Islamic center is scheduled to be built is two blocks, so this is at least five blocks away from the center.

And again, we are efforting some kind of reaction on whether this is actually a viable, but so far, we haven't been able to get any comment from that investor, but certainly, a startling number of developments and fast-paced and dramatic developments today right after one day after the imam had spoken with CNN.

MALVEAUX: And obviously, that is absolutely right, obviously reaction and response to what we actually saw on CNN, the exclusive interview with the imam yesterday, that was the impetus, and the catalyst, if you will, for the other Muslim leader to get involved to see if there was such a deal that could be worked out here. And obviously, Mary, still a lot of questions about whether or not that will in fact happen, but we are going to try to get as many of the details together. I know you are working to sources as well, and we will be right back after this quick break with more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: We want to follow the breaking news with the strategy developments that we have learned within the last 45 minutes or so, our CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and also Republican strategist John Feehery of the Feehery Group.

This is stunning and surprising. I mean, when we saw that, that is not what any of us expected and perhaps we were expecting the worst. Do you think it is a good idea that you had Secretary Gates of the Obama administration pick up the phone and call this guy, this pastor, who perhaps represents at most at best 30 to 50 followers and who is threatening to burn the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11? Smart move?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you had General Petraeus, and Colin Powell and the secretary of state and the president out, there and it was a good move by Secretary Gates to call Pastor Jones. I think that he has gotten a lot of air time over the last few days, but if we can save one American life by calling on this pastor to stop this stupid act, this ridiculous act of burning the Koran, I am glad that the secretary did it.

MALVEAUX: Does it set a dangerous precedent here perhaps, John, if you have any kind of, I mean, you know, whacko or somebody who has an ax to grind and they decide that they want to threaten, and then you have literally, I mean, the Obama administration, the international community all responding?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It is stunning. This whole media circus has been stunning. This guy to get 30 members of the congregation, and has the whole world wrapped around his finger to make this point. I think it was a good idea for Secretary Gates to make the call and he had no choice by the end of the day and it worked, but the media should take some stock here by saying that we have made him a media star, and he does not deserve it. That is troubling.

MALVEAUX: Who should have ignored him? Should everybody have ignored him would he have done away?

BRAZILE: In the new 24-hour news cycle and you can put a tweet out there and reach millions of people across the world, you could not ignore his challenge by saying that he was going to burn the Koran. I find it offensive that this one man, and I'm a Christian and I was offended, because it appeared in some other parts of the world, that it was all Christians. And of course, it is not all Muslims that are attacking us, and not all Christians who are trying to burn the Koran and I'm glad we tried to diffuse the situation so we don't get a copycat in the near future.

FEEHERY: There are a lot of cooks out there, and everybody should have ignored him, everybody in the media, and respectable media left it out in the cyber world where it belonged.

MALVEAUX: How do you do that when the president comes out, and he says to himself, and there was a chain here, right? You had the General Petraeus who initially talked about the fact that this was a threat. Then you had the president talking about that he was frustrated this guy was receiving the kind of attention, and then acted and appealed to him as commander in chief and said, if you are watching, then I don't want you to do this. Did they not play into this?

FEEHERY: Every once in a while, somebody gets kidnapped in Afghanistan and other places and the media does a good job to cover it up, because it does not give oxygen to a story that doesn't need oxygen. I don't want to blame the president or anyone, but I think that everybody has to take stock and say, we can't let this happen again.

BRAZILE: Once General Petraeus went public, I thought that Mr. Jones would have abandoned his so-called burning the Koran strategy, but after he insisted that he needed you know to hear from other people, and the world leaders and the secretary of state, world leaders, come on it's a bit much.

MALVEAUX: What does this say about where we are when it comes to our society and culture and the fact that this guy does something like this, and gets this kind of attention?

FEEHERY: It is a great question. I think that historians will spend a lot of time wondering what happened to the American media and the democracy and the interaction of the 24-hour news cycle and how do you put the jean genie back into the bottle.

BRAZILE: Civility, we need to instill that into our children and once again put it back into our culture.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Donna and John.