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Castro Offers to Talk to U.S.; Awaiting Rescued Sea Captain; Power Play on Climate Change; Captain Richard Phillips Speaks Live From Vermont

Aired April 17, 2009 - 15:59   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the Obama administration ways a new offer by Cuba to break a half century of silence. This hour, President Obama at the Summit of the Americas. We're waiting to hear if he responds to Raul Castro's invitation.

Plus, a rescued sea captain finally returning to the United States.

We're standing by for Richard Phillips to talk about his ordeal as a hostage of pirates. We're about to carry his homecoming and his remarks. You will see and hear them live, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And the Environmental Protection Agency sets the stage for possible regulation of global warming. Is it an end run around Congress?

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics, and extraordinary remarks from around the world.


President Obama has just landed in Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas, where officials are buzzing about one of the region's longstanding outcasts. That would be Cuba.

Expectations now are soaring for a thaw on Cuba's relations with the United States, largely frozen since the Cold War. President Raul Castro says he's ready to talk with the Obama administration and put everything on the table.

We're standing by for remarks by President Obama. We're going to carry them live. We expect he will be talking in part about his response to what the Cubans are saying.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, had this to say about Cuba's offer...


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: You are all familiar with the administration's general view that engagement is a useful tool to advance our national interests and our goals of promoting human rights, democracy, peace, prosperity, and progress. So we have seen Raul Castro's comments, and we welcome this overture. We are taking a serious look at it and we will consider how we intend to respond.


BLITZER: Very, very precise words from the secretary of state on a most, most sensitive issue.

Let's get some more on what's going on. Brianna Keilar is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Stuff is moving very, very rapidly, potentially, in this U.S./Cuban relationship.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is diplomacy on fast forward. And, of course, President Obama getting this all started, allowing Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba, send money to their relatives in Cuba. Also allowing American cell phone companies to do business in Cuba.

And now the question is, who takes the next step?


KEILAR (voice-over): President Obama says the next move is Havana's.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Having taken the first step, I think it's very much in our interest to see whether Cuba is also ready to change.

KEILAR: A quick response from Cuban President Raul Castro.

RAUL CASTRO, CUBAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We are ready when they want to discuss everything -- human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners. Everything, everything, everything they want to discuss.

KEILAR: Castro said this before, but on the heels of the greatest shift in U.S. policy towards Cuba in 50 years, the words have new importance. Even before face-to-face talks, Cuba could send the U.S. a welcome signal by freeing political prisoners, making it easier for Cubans to travel to the U.S., allowing Cubans the freedom to assemble, or opening the Cuban telecommunications market -- Internet, television, cell phone service to U.S. companies.

After decades of isolation, experts say aging Cuban leaders realize this may be their last chance to preserve a legacy.

JULIA SWEIG, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I think that Raul Castro can hear the clock ticking within his own country. He has a population, 70 percent of whom were born after the revolution 50 years ago. So young people in Cuba do not have a kind of stake in the revolution as such that the older generation has.


KEILAR: Now, while the Obama administration waits on the Castro government, Latin American leaders like Mexican President Calderon, whom the president met with yesterday, say the burden here is really on the U.S. They say that's because 50 years of the trade embargo failed to change Cuba, and that's really something the U.S. needs to deal with.

BLITZER: Yes. He's going to come under a lot of pressure at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad to change U.S. policy, lift those sanctions against Cuba, because on this issue, the U.S., right now, at least in the hemisphere, is in the minority. We'll see what happens.

We're standing by to hear from the president. We expect that he will address this issue, a response to Raul Castro, the president of Cuba.

Thanks very much, Brianna.

So, stand by. We're going go back to Trinidad as soon as we hear and see the president. He's going to be speaking. We'll have live coverage of that.

There's other stories we're following, including an important one in Vermont right now. A hero's welcome is in the works for the rescued sea captain Richard Phillips. He's due to land very soon at Burlington International Airport, a long-awaited homecoming after being held hostage by those pirates.

We're going to carry his arrival, his expected remarks. You will see and hear them live here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well.

Let's get some more specifics though on what we can expect from CNN's Deborah Feyerick. She's joining us now live from Vermont.

Deb, a lot of reporters, a lot of photographers, and a lot of folks in Vermont very excited, getting ready to greet a hero.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And they've actually pulled back the gate just so that everyone here can get a clear shot of that plane landing.

It is expected to touch down at about 4:20 this afternoon. The family arrived here just before 4:00, so they're in the building, just here to my right.

We are told that two FBI agents did travel with Captain Richard Phillips. There was no formal briefing, we are told, by a Maersk spokesperson. But it was a very long flight, 18.5 hours, that those two FBI agents were with the captain. So chances are pretty good that, in fact, the topic of his captivity did come up at one or two points. Again, he was on the water in the Gulf of Aden with four pirates for five days before being rescued by those three Navy SEALs.

So, again, he's scheduled to touch down here about 4:20. We're told that the initial arrival, the initial greeting, will actually be pretty low key.

Once the plane does touch down here, Customs agents will board the private jet plane, they'll do a search. The family will also go on board. And then we're told everyone will come out, except for the FBI agents, come to the podium, where the captain can talk about what his ordeal was like.

A lot of questions. Were the pirates hostile towards him? How did they treat him? What happened when he tried to escape?

All of these things, hopefully, we'll hear from the captain's own mouth. Again, 4:20 he's supposed to land. We're told the family's going to get a police escort to their home. It will be a very simple dinner. A friend is bringing over some chicken pot pie. His mom has made brownies, and some of his good friends are going to bring over his favorite beer.

So at least something to look forward to for the captain once he arrives -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It all sounds delicious. And we'll have live coverage.

These are his first public remarks since his release as a captive of those pirates. And you'll see and hear them live, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Deb, stand by for that.

Two events. Two events, live events. We're waiting for the arrival of Captain Phillips in Vermont and the remarks by President Obama in Trinidad responding to this latest statement from the Cuban government.

In the meantime, let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You got your dancing shoes on?

BLITZER: Yes. We're going to be tiptoeing all over this.

CAFFERTY: Yes. We've got a lot of stuff going on, right?


CAFFERTY: President Obama being criticized for his decision to release those Bush-era memos about CIA interrogation techniques. Conservatives say releasing them damages our national security by telling the terrorists what we do. Michael Hayden, who led the CIA under President Bush, says that CIA officers will now be more timid and our allies will be less likely to share sensitive intelligence.

Human rights groups aren't happy either that the president promised the CIA that officers who conducted these interrogations will not be prosecuted if they use techniques that were authorized at the time. The president says there's nothing to be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.

I'm not sure I agree with that. President Obama spent a month deciding whether or not to release this stuff. Consulting numerous officials, he reportedly weighed the sanctity of covert operations and what impact it could have on national security against the law and his belief in transparency. And in the end, it was transparency that won.

The documents themselves quite revealing. They show the CIA used waterboarding, sleep deprivation, slapping, keeping detainees naked and in some cases in a diaper, putting detainees on a liquid diet, and using a plastic neck collar to slam detainees into walls. The memos also authorized keeping suspected al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah, who apparently is afraid of insects, in a dark, confined space and then putting bugs in the box with him and telling him that they were in there and that they were going to bite him.

President Obama banned the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that some call torture soon after he took office. And he's pledged to make sure the actions described in these memos "never take place again."

So the question is this: Is the release of the Bush-era interrogation memos a mistake?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A huge, huge debate unfolding since the release yesterday of these. And we're going to have extensive coverage of that here in THE SITUATION ROOM, as well.

Jack, good question. Thank you.

And don't forget, Jack, we're standing by. Two live events here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In the coming moments, the return of the captain who was freed from those pirates, Richard Phillips. Expecting him to land in Vermont very, very soon. You'll hear from him for the first time.

Also, the president of the United States expected to respond to the latest statements from the Cuban government about a potential thaw in U.S./Cuban relations. What the president of the United States is about to say, you'll see that live here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, is setting some limits today on embryonic stem-cell research just weeks after easing restrictions on federal funding for it.

Plus, a new step toward regulating greenhouse gases that are believed to cause global warning. The science and the politics coming up.

And the man who ran John McCain's presidential campaign now challenging Republicans to stop fighting same-sex marriage and to support it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A reminder -- we're standing by to hear from President Barack Obama. He's expected to respond to the latest overture from the Cuban president, Raul Castro, about potentially a thaw in U.S./Cuban relations easing, potentially, sanctions against Cuba.

What is going on? The president of the United States about to speak at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

We'll have live coverage of that for you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also standing by for live coverage of Captain Richard Phillips' homecoming in Vermont. He's getting ready to land at Burlington International Airport in Vermont.

We're going to have live coverage of the arrival. And then he's expected to speak for the first time about his ordeal at the hands of pirates. Stand by for that as well.

A busy day here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

At the same time, a decision announced by the Environmental Protection Agency today that could significantly expand the government's regulation of companies that cause pollution, but there's concern that EPA may be stepping on Congress' turf when it comes to action on global warming.

Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin. We asked her to take a closer look at what is going on.

Potentially, Jessica, this is a big deal.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf. It's a watershed decision, really.

In one move, the Obama administration is blowing past climate change skeptics and reversing years of Bush administration policy. The Environmental Protection Agency today announced that greenhouse gases are causing potentially health-threatening air pollution and that these human emissions are helping to cause increased drought, flooding, more intense heat waves, storm, and wildfires.

It's really the first step to likely new regulations, limiting emissions by cars, by energy plants and other factories and businesses without any action by Congress. So, not surprisingly, critics are howling.

House Republican Leader John Boehner called it a backdoor attempt to enact a national energy tax. The Senate's leading climate change skeptic, James Inhofe, describes it as a regulatory barrage that will destroy jobs, raise energy prices for consumers, and even undermine America's global competitiveness.

You won't be surprised to know that advocates on opposing sides of the debate are speak out, with critics saying that this decision will ultimately cripple American businesses. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID DONIGER, POLICY DIRECTOR, NRDC CLIMATE CENTER: There's a bit of scare tactics going around. Most companies knew this was coming. They know that global warming pollution is real, and they know they have to do something about it.



WILLIAM KOVACS, VICE PRESIDENT, U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: Just to regulate CO2 today literally puts EPA as in charge of the entire economy, because it will regulate everything that generates a greenhouse gas. And greenhouse gases includes carbon dioxide, and virtually everything, including you and I, generate carbon dioxide.


YELLIN: Well, you can see the second speaker there was the critic.

They are worried this will hamper business. It's important note that there are no regulations as of yet, Wolf. This now begins a process that will likely result in eventual new rules, but at the same time Congress is working on legislation, the White House insists the president would rather address climate change through legislation in Congress. Clearly, though, they're not limiting their options -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And this period of commenting now is 60 days, so nothing is going to happen for the next two months.

YELLIN: That's correct. So we have a two-month time span for Congress to try to work something out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, thanks very much.

Jessica is going to watch this story.

Another important development today. Supporters of embryonic stem-cell research praised President Obama when he announced the lifting of a ban on the use of federal funds only a few weeks ago. But today we're learning that there are some restrictions for scientists who want to use that government money, and a lot of money is at stake right now.

Let's bring in our Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. She has details.

Some are suggesting he's walking a sort of fine line in the middle of this debate, but explain to our viewers, Elizabeth, what's going on.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What's going on here, Wolf, is the debate about embryonic stem cells. On the one hand, they hold promise to treat all sorts of terrible diseases like diabetes and Parkinson's. But on the other hand, to do this research, you have to destroy an embryo. And obviously some people are vehemently against that.

So what President Obama did today is he laid down the rules. He said if a researcher wants federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, he or she has to do these things...

One, the researcher can only use embryos that are in infertility clinics. There's an unknown number of these embryos that are in fertility clinics that parents have decided they don't want to use, they've already had enough children. And so they're sitting there and, so, some researchers would like use of them. Researchers cannot use federal funding if hay want to create brand new embryos.

Now, another rule that he set out is that parents of these embryos must give permission and that parents cannot be paid. In other words, they have to donate these embryos for research, they can't get money for them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But if there's profits from the potential benefits from the research, will the parents share in some of these profits?

COHEN: Wolf, it's a really interesting question, because what if your embryo is used to create the cure to diabetes? Obviously that's worth billions of dollars, but those parents will never see a penny of those profits. That's part of the new rules from the National Institutes of Health.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

Lots of regulations today on the environment and on embryonic stem-cell research.

Held hostage at sea, but soon to be safe at home. We're awaiting the rescued captain's return to the United States. We're going to have live coverage in Vermont.

You're looking at live pictures there.

Also, both sides sending friendly signals, but will the U.S. and Cuba see a thaw in their relationship? Our reporter in Havana is standing by live.

And she landed her dream job with a major bank, then was told, we can't hire you because you're a foreigner. That's happening to many others in the U.S. from overseas. We're about to explain what goes on.



BLITZER: We're awaiting President Obama. He's expected to respond to the latest comments from Cuba about a potential thaw in U.S./Cuban relations. We're going to have live coverage. Stand by.

Also, we're going to have live coverage of Captain Phillips' homecoming in Vermont after his terrifying pirate hostage ordeal. He's expected to come out once he lands and speak about that ordeal.


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

Happening now, the surviving Somali pirate who hijacked a U.S. ship is now on his way to a U.S. base in Africa. There's a report he'll stand trial right here in the United States.

We're also standing by for the arrival of Captain Phillips to his home town of near Burlington, Vermont. We'll have live coverage of that.

Critics of President Obama's decision to release Bush-era interrogation documents are warning that the decision could cause retaliation against the United States around the world.

And thousands of farmers in California are protesting. They're demanding the federal government help them survive a devastating drought.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: All right. This is a live picture you're seeing now, the plane carrying Captain Richard Phillips.

You see that little tail over there. Well, you don't see it now. It's behind that airport gate over there, but the plane has now landed in Burlington, Vermont.

The plane bringing Richard Phillips back to the United States from his ordeal off the coast of Somalia. He was held by pirates in that little lifeboat for several days. U.S. military finally rescued him, and now he's back on U.S. soil right now for the first time.

We're expecting that he will be speaking at some point in the next few moments after he gets ready to receive his family, go through Customs.

Deborah Feyerick is on the scene for us in Vermont.

Deb, we don't see the plane now. It sort of disappeared behind the airport terminal. But we do know the plane has landed. Maybe that's the plane right now, a private charter plane that his employers at Maersk in Norfolk, Virginia, had chartered for him to bring him back to the United States.

It was a pretty long flight, Deb, from Mombasa in Kenya. FEYERICK: Absolutely, Wolf. And as a matter of fact, it was about 18.5 hours. The plane actually made two stops, one in Malta, the other in Santiago, Spain, in order to refuel.

We are told that there are two FBI agents on board that plane with him. And as a matter of fact, although a spokesperson for Maersk says there was no formal debriefing, because it was such a long flight, the chances that they spoke to him about his ordeal, five days, the Gulf of Aden, in that lifeboat with the pirates, chances are they got a pretty good picture of what it was like.

Now, one thing is, is that they have a Somali pirate, a teenager, who is going to be brought back to New York and tried by the U.S. attorney there. They're used to doing these kinds of trials with terrorists and also with Somalis in terms of this kind of activity. They are going to probably call the captain to testify in any trial, if this does happen.

Now, as you can see, there's a lot of media around me. Everybody is sort of rubbernecking here. We're getting a better picture of that plane, again, 18-and-a-half hours that plane up in the air.

Also on board was a representative from Maersk, from the Maersk Alabama. It's going to be coming around. Wolf, we're told that, in fact, customs agents will board the plane, do a preliminary search, check everybody in, and then the family will greet the captain.

And then all of them will come out together. There's a podium that is set up here. And everybody's going to be speaking, actually, the captain, his wife, his two children, along with his mom, Virginia.

So, everybody just waiting to get a glimpse of this captain -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I don't know if everyone is going to be speaking, but we do expect, Deb, that the captain himself, Captain Phillips, will say a few words. His wife, Andrea, is there, the two kids, Daniel and Mariah, and his mom, Virginia. She goes by the name of Ginny.

They're all there. How excited they must be. And we know that they and some of their friends, they have prepared some special treats for the captain after that ordeal.

Any of the other crew members, Deb, as far as you know? Have they come -- we know they landed yesterday outside of Washington, D.C., at Andrews Air Force Base. Are any of them now in Vermont getting ready to meet their skipper?

FEYERICK: You know, we're not told. We don't know whether any of the other crew members are here in this area.

But we do know that, in fact, that the captain is going to have a very low-key evening. As a matter of fact, his family was brought here at about 3:45 with a police escort. And once they address the members of the media, then a police escort will bring them home. That street where the house is, is actually blocked off from all public access. This is to give the family privacy, which is exactly what they have asked for. We're told they're going to have a very easy dinner. A friend is making chicken pot pie. His mom is making brownies. And a couple of friends are going to be bring over his favorite beer.

So -- so, they really are keeping it very sort of down-home, in order to welcome him home -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, let's just make it clear to our viewers what they're going to see.

Once this plane, this private jet comes to a halt, representatives from U.S. Customs will board that plane. And they will spend a few minutes going through the -- the customs duties and all of that. And only then will the captain disembark, will walk down with -- with his colleagues from that plane.

And then he's going to go to a private reception, spend some time with his family, before he makes public remarks.

Is that right, Deb?

FEYERICK: That's exactly right.

You know, it's been -- it's been a long time that they -- actually -- he actually went to sea about two weeks ago. They kept in touch with what was going on. And you can see, Wolf, that even the angle of the plane, Maersk is really doing all it can to accommodate the members of the media.

One reason the captain is going to be talking today, for example, and not waiting until tomorrow, because they're hoping, there's some hope that perhaps, if he comes and makes a statement, that everybody will go home. They will have heard from the captain.

But there's such high interest. People really just have been following what he went through when he was in that lifeboat with the four pirates. And, again, one of the teen pirates just surrendered just before those Navy SEAL sharpshooters took out the other pirates.

Now, that's certainly something that we want to ask the captain, what in fact that was like, when that first bullet shattered the window? You know, what did he think at that moment? Did he know it was the Navy who was being called into play, or was he just not sure what was happening at that moment?

So, that's one of the questions that we're hoping to ask him. But, again, he may not understand the -- just the scope of interest, how many people are actually here. So, that's why we have been given two minutes, basically, two minutes, in which he will speak to the press.

If we can get a question in, you know, we're going to try -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure there's enormous, high interest to hear his story.

And, eventually -- and we want to give him some time to spend some time decompressing here in the United States, especially with his family and with his friends. But, at some point, everyone would love to hear the story, as much of the details that he can -- he feels comfortable releasing.

That will -- that will certainly generate a lot of interest in that ordeal. It's been a long time since an American was held hostage by pirates on the -- taken on the high seas, and that's an incredible story to share, those days he was held in that little lifeboat by those three or four pirates.

And, as you say, one of those pirates did survive, a young kid, really, what, 16 years or 17 years old, a teenager. And he potentially could be brought back to the United States to stand trial. Is that right, Deb?

FEYERICK: That's exactly right.

And you have to remember that the U.S. attorney in the Southern District, that's the district that actually tried the embassy bombers, the embassies in Kenya and Dar es Salaam. And, so -- so, they're very familiar with terrorism in that part of the world. They're familiar with the Gulf of Aden. They're familiar with how, you know, the situation works there.

So, now, we're seeing the door open, crew members. What we're looking at now, Wolf, crew members. These are the customs officials that are boarding the plane right now. You can get a pretty good look here. Not sure what one of them has in his hand, may just be stamps to validate that they have arrived on U.S. soil. So...


BLITZER: Well, they have got to go...


BLITZER: They have got to go through the regular customs.

All -- if you're flying in a private plane into the United States, this is what happens all the time. They go on board. They make sure everything, the paperwork, everything is proper, they're not bringing agricultural products or something like that into the United States for quarantine.

But they want to make sure that everyone on board has the proper papers. And, then, eventually, I'm sure this is going to go very, very quickly for Captain Phillips. Once the customs officials, the border officials, they go on board, they will do the paperwork.

And then I -- I'm assuming, very, very soon, Deb, we will see the captain walk out. And you were telling us who's been on the plane...

FEYERICK: Oh, there's his daughter. You can see his daughter, his daughter...


BLITZER: Running up there. Oh, yes.


FEYERICK: We believe that's his daughter. And there goes his wife and his son.

BLITZER: That's Mariah. And there goes the wife, Andrea, and their son, Daniel.

They're not waiting.

FEYERICK: And that's his mom.

BLITZER: They were supposed to bring him out, but I guess they didn't want to wait any longer, and you really can't blame them. How excited they must be to finally get to see their father and their husband -- and her husband.

FEYERICK: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And that's -- that's his mother, Virginia, who's now walking up there as well.

Wow. This an exciting homecoming for this captain. And he -- he is...


BLITZER: Let's stress, Deb, he is a genuine American hero, because his crew members all say, his willingness to sacrifice himself and to allow himself to be taken hostage by those pirates saved their lives and also saved that ship, the U.S. cargo ship the Maersk Alabama, which had been effectively commandeered, or at least close to commandeered.

And there he is. There's Captain Phillips right there, hugging his mother. He's hugged his wife and his two kids. What a nice -- what a nice smile he has on his face.

He's going to thank the crew, the pilot, and everything else. And now he's -- let's listen in a little bit.


FEYERICK: You can hear some of the folks who came here, some people from the town who came, actually, to welcome him home and cheer him. And, as you can see, he's wearing a USS Bainbridge hat from the ship on which those Navy SEALs rescued him, the ship that actually diverted in the Gulf of Aden to try to help another U.S. freighter that was under siege by pirates, so kind of an interesting story there.

We don't know how long they're going to be in that building, Wolf. We're told anywhere between five, 15 minutes, really, as long as the captain wants.

So, then we do expect him to come straight out to this podium.

BLITZER: Yes. They're going to spend some time just getting re -- reunited, which is totally understandable.

And, then, at some point -- it could be five minutes, could be 10 minutes, 15, 20 minutes -- we don't know, but we do expect the captain will come before the microphones in Burlington, Vermont, and make a statement.

We certainly will have live coverage of -- of all of that.

You know, I -- just briefly, Deb, I saw, as all of our viewers did, that smile on his face as he was walking down that plane. And it sort of said everything.

In fact, let's play that video. That's the tape that just happened live a few moments ago.

FEYERICK: Wolf, actually, this is a -- one of the -- well, I'm going to give you a minute -- a spokesperson who has really been helping coordinate this entire venture -- this is really very, very organized.

You have to understand just -- just how many folks are interested in listening to the captain. And it's been very well orchestrated. Maersk brought in a public relations company, and they have been sort of really keeping us in the loop, in terms of timing, in terms of when the plane was going to arrive.

So, right now, they're sitting up the podium, which isn't all that interesting. But, obviously, what's to follow is going to be a lot better.

BLITZER: Yes, what -- what he's going to say, though, is going to be fascinating.

We will see if he goes into detail, just makes a brief statement of appreciation. What he says, obviously, we will have live coverage of that.

All right, Deb, stand by. We're going to get back to you.

We're -- we're also -- we're also following another story. And we're standing by for live coverage of the president of the United States. He's landed at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. We're expecting to hear him live momentarily as well, and to react to what some are calling an olive branch from the Cuban government, the Cuban president, Raul Castro.

We're going to have live coverage of President Obama's remarks. We expect, according to White House officials, for him to respond to this latest statement from Raul Castro.

But let's go to CNN's Dan Lothian, our White House correspondent. He's now on the ground in Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago.

What are we -- what are we hearing from the officials at the White House, Dan? Will the president make a formal response to this latest statement some are calling an overture from Raul Castro?


We're told by the White House, a senior administration official, that the president, later on today, will make direct responses on the issue of Cuba, obviously reacting to what Raul Castro said, that pretty much everything is on the table now, political prisoners, freedom of the press, all of these issues that are so critical, human rights issues that are so critical to perhaps leading to the easing of overall restrictions, embargo on Cuba. He's willing to put everything on the table.

Certainly, this administration, in the last few days, Wolf, had been saying that they didn't think that Cuba would dominate the summit here. Well, it...


LOTHIAN: ... that's not going to be the case. I mean, Cuba really seems to be front and center here.

And, in -- in addition to that, Robert Gibbs has been talking about all of what the administration has been doing leading up to this summit to really try to work through this longstanding policy with Cuba.

Take a listen.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... to change the policy -- to begin to change the policy with Cuba.

So -- and I think -- I mean, largely, I just don't think that this notion of engagement is anything that's a surprise to us because it's something that we've talked about.

QUESTION: Where does it go...


LOTHIAN: That was Robert Gibbs aboard Air Force One on the way here to Trinidad.

Now, Mr. Obama, yesterday, in fact, talked about sort of the carrot and the stick here, saying that he welcomes all of the potential exchanges, what's coming from Cuba, but he also wants to see some real -- some additional changes, before the United States will start sort of thawing that relationship with Cuba -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And -- and, even as we're speaking right now, the OAS, the -- the leadership, is saying Cuba should be allowed to come back to the Organization of American States. And it's been decades since they were a member of the OAS. That's a significant development.

Let's walk through what we expect to happen in the coming moments. There will be a series of speakers before the president of the United States; is that right, Dan?

LOTHIAN: That's right.

The president will be, I believe, the third speaker from -- at the event. And it should be within the hour or so that the president -- I'm told about 5:05 is when the president will be out to speak here at Summit of the Americas. There will be other additional events happening throughout the evening as well, but the president, of course, making statements about Cuba, as I mentioned a while ago.

And, again, Wolf, you know, what's interesting about all of this is that it's sort of been building up the Summit of the Americas, because the president, first of all, just a few days ago, easing the restrictions from family -- or lifting the restrictions on Cuban American who wanted to travel to Cuba who have family members there, and also remittances that they wanted to send there.

So, that sort of is the beginning of this thawing process. And, again, the president wants to see more give from the Cuban government before the U.S. decides what its move will be.

BLITZER: All right, Dan, I'm going to have you stand by. We're going to get back to you.

Dan Lothian is in Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas. The president of the United States will be speaking soon, responding formally, formally, to the president of Cuba, Raul Castro.

There are fast-moving development in U.S./Cuban relationships -- the U.S./Cuban relationship right now. We're going to go back there for live coverage of President Obama's remarks.

We're also going to have live coverage of the comments from the -- the captain, Richard Phillips, who's just been reunited with his family in Vermont. You saw it live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's the Maersk private plane that just brought him back to the United States from Kenya.

He's with his wife, his two kids, his mom. They're inside the terminal. But, very soon, he's going to come out to the microphones and speak publicly for the first time since he was rescued by the U.S. military.

Lots going on right here today -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: All right, we're standing by to hear for the first time publicly from Captain Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, who has just landed. His private plane, Maersk -- you see it right there -- those are live pictures -- that plane has just landed in Burlington, Vermont, near his hometown.

He's inside the terminal right now with his wife, his two kids and with his mother. Only moments ago, we saw him walking off that plane with his family. You saw that broad smile of his. This is videotape of that moment when he finally got off that plane here in the United States, and decided that they're going to spend a few moments of quiet private time inside -- there he is, Captain Phillips, a genuine American hero.

And, momentarily, he's going to be speaking to all of us, speaking to the world, in fact, making a statement. We don't know how much detail he's going to go into about his ordeal. I assume he's going to express his deep appreciation to everyone for getting through this -- this really dangerous situation.

We're also standing by to hear from President Barack Obama. He's in Trinidad and Tobago right now at the Summit of the Americas. And he's getting ready to respond to the latest statement from Raul Castro, the president of Cuba, a statement suggesting there could be some fast-moving developments in easing this U.S./Cuban relationship, a thaw, potentially, in the works.

Let's talk about this and more with our CNN political contributor Hilary Rosen -- she's a Democratic strategist -- and Republican strategist Ron Christie, a former official in the Bush White House.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: It looks like this Cuban -- U.S./Cuban relationship, Hilary, it's -- it's, potentially, changing...


BLITZER: ... very, very quickly.


ROSEN: After 50 years, that you could have so much happening in the course of one week...

BLITZER: I see a broad smile on your face.

ROSEN: Well, it's exciting. You know, I -- I think these are the kinds of things that Barack Obama promised the American people. We're going to take a fresh look at our old enemies and our new allies. And I think, you know, the Cuban relationship, just like with Hugo Chavez, these are -- these are old economic disputes. And dividing the world now between sort of state-run capitalist countries vs. state -- state-run countries vs., you know, capitalist countries...

BLITZER: Between communist regimes, you mean.

ROSEN: ... it's not -- it's not a -- it's not a rational divide anymore.

You know, we -- our friends in the Soviet Union have -- have seen the new light, in many ways. So, I -- I think it's so important that we take these steps with Cuba.

BLITZER: You -- you're probably not as enthusiastic about an easing of the U.S./Cuban relationship, are you, Ron?


I think we need to be very measured and very calculating here. The Cuban regime has so much of a problem with human rights abuses. They have oppressed their people. Let's make sure that, if we engage with the Cuban people, and, similarly, with the folks in Venezuela, with Hugo Chavez, that we make sure that they stand up for human rights for their people, that they're not oppressing people based on their religious views and their ideology, and that there's true freedom and liberty in these two countries.

So, I do take a bit more of measured response. Let's just see what happens.

BLITZER: Because, so far...

ROSEN: I think...


BLITZER: Hold on one second. Hold on one second.

So far, his -- his gestures towards Cuba have been sort of measured. Cuban-Americans can now visit as often as they want. They can send as much money back to their family members in Cuba.

But there hasn't been a wholesale lifting of the travel restrictions...


BLITZER: ... or the trade embargo, the sanctions against Cuba, nothing along those lines, although those, potentially, depending on what the Cubans do now in response, that -- that could develop.

CHRISTIE: Yes, I think we need to wait to see what Raul Castro has to say more.

But, again, I have a very measured response. I agree with you. We haven't lifted the travel ban yet. We haven't lifted most of the economic sanctions. The United States and her allies in the region need to ensure that these folks in the Cuban islands have freedom and liberty and are not...


BLITZER: I think it's fair to say the ball is now in the court of Raul Castro and his older brother, Fidel Castro and the Cuban government, because...


BLITZER: ... I think it's fair to say that the -- the Obama administration certainly has made an overture in these initial steps, which he himself promised he would do as a candidate.

ROSEN: You know, 70 percent of the Cubans weren't even alive when these disputes started. It's almost as many percentage for the United States citizens. These are -- these are old wars that we should not be having with a -- with a country as close and as economically important, potentially, to us at Cuba, and as important militarily, given its -- its location.

So, everything that President Obama does to respond to the -- to the good actions that Raul Castro's prepared to take, you know...


BLITZER: If he's -- if he's prepared -- if -- if he takes them.

ROSEN: If he's prepared to take them.


ROSEN: And he said he was.


ROSEN: Finally, we have a president who will actually listen if he makes a move.


ROSEN: And we haven't had that before.

CHRISTIE: Well, actions -- actions -- actions speak louder than words. And we have had that before. And this is not a condemnation...


ROSEN: No, we haven't had that before. We haven't had a president say: I'm ready. (CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: Hilary, this is not a condemnation...


BLITZER: Well, Jimmy Carter said he was ready, but he got no response from the Cuban government in those days.

CHRISTIE: Exactly.


CHRISTIE: And this goes all the way back to the...

ROSEN: How many years ago was Jimmy Carter? We're talking 35 years ago.

CHRISTIE: And this goes all the way back to the Kennedy administration.

Let's just not make this a Bush bashing. It goes all the way back to Kennedy.

BLITZER: Let's -- let's talk about this other issue. And we're standing by to hear from the president of the United States. We're going to have live coverage of that. We're going to have live coverage of Captain Phillips' remarks and see what -- what he has to say.

He's now back in the United States, thank God, safe. He's with his family.

This -- this -- the documents that were released yesterday by the Obama administration, Bush administration documents authorizing the enhanced interrogation techniques, which some called torture, there was an article in "The Wall Street Journal" today by Michael Hayden and -- and Michael Mukasey, the former attorney general, Michael Mukasey, and Michael Hayden, the former intelligence chief, the CIA director.

And they said this: "By allowing this disclosure, President Obama has tied not only his own hands, but also the hands of any future administration faced with the prospect of attack."

There's a lot of angry fallout from the decision that the president made yesterday.

ROSEN: I just don't see the value to the United States, to Republicans, to anyone for President Obama to continue to pretend that we will engage, as a nation, in the kinds of torture that previously this country has -- has -- we discovered -- we found.

I think he -- he achieved a -- a tough balance this week. He said, look, we're not going to punish those people who formally engaged in behavior that he thinks is illegal. We're going to say, OK, it happened.

But the transparency of letting people know what happened is a big boost to those who's -- who -- who wanted to see this happen a different way.

BLITZER: What do -- well, do you think that he -- he drew this proper, you know, balance?

CHRISTIE: No, I don't.

I think everything that the commander in chief has had to do in this enhanced age of interrogation that we're in right now is protect the American people. I don't see how releasing these memos, allowing people abroad, terrorists, who want to kill innocent Americans, now they know that they have taken a couple more arsenals off the table.

They have taken a couple of interrogation techniques off the table. And to suggest that putting someone in a box with a caterpillar is torture, I think, is ridiculous. The president of the United States needs to take all steps necessary to protect the American people. And I think the Obama has tied, not only his own hands, but the hands of future presidents, as it relates to enhanced interrogation.



BLITZER: Guys, hole on one second, because I -- I want to talk about the captain.

He is about to -- getting ready to speak. And this is a very happy story that we're watching right now. And we're going to show our viewers some pictures, live pictures, coming in from Vermont right now. This is Burlington Airport, where Captain Richard Phillips, only moments ago -- and you saw the pictures here -- you saw live coverage, as the -- the captain of the Maersk Alabama, he landed.

He's now walking out to a microphone. There's his wife, Andrea. And his two kids, they are there with him as well, Daniel and Mariah.

Let's listen to Andrea.


This is truly one of the happiest moments of our life, having Richard home. I'm extremely proud of my husband, Richard, for his selfless act of bravery and even though, in his own humble way, he will tell you he was doing his job.

To my -- our children, Dan and Mariah, I just want to say how proud I was of them. They had been strong. And that had just made me stronger.

My heroes here are the commander and crew of the USS Bainbridge and the Navy SEALs who were doing their job to rescue Richard and bring him and the crew of the Alabama home safely.


A. PHILLIPS: I have always been proud to call myself an American. Today, I am even prouder.

To everyone who has been involved in this that made this day possible, I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Through this past week, having Richard back safe was all that my family and I ever wanted. Our prayers have been answered.

And we have a lot of people to thank. We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support and prayers from our friends, our fellow workers, and from our community here in Vermont, across our great nation, and even across the world.

This is not one of our typical homecomings. And, now that Richard's back, I just ask that you give us some time for us to be a family again.

Hey, Rich, welcome home.


A. PHILLIPS: Do you need your glasses?






R. PHILLIPS: ... got my glasses.


R. PHILLIPS: Thank you for coming out here.

I just have a few things to say. I -- I don't have much. I just want to thank you for your prayers and support of my family while I was gone. I really appreciate that. I wasn't here to do it. And a lot of people who I will mention really did that. I'm just a bit part in this story. I'm a small part. I'm a seaman doing the best he can, like all the other seamen out there.

The first people I want to thank are the SEALs. They're the superheroes. They're the titans. They're impossible men doing an impossible job. And they did the impossible with me. And I just want to let you know they are -- they are out there. They are everyday people we will not recognize and I will not divulge, but they did an excellent job, and they saved me. They're at the point of the sword every day doing an impossible job, which we cannot comprehend.

Second, the military, the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, I have never been around a better group of young, more dedicated, professional, capable people in my life. I have been on the Boxer and the Bainbridge, all you Bainbridge boys out there, and I really appreciate the time there.

I cannot speak enough about the people, the men, the women on those ships, and the dedicated service that they give to us every day.

Also, the Boxer, I was on. And, again, you have two captains on there, on the Boxer and the Bainbridge, who are two most coolest cucumbers I have ever met, and are doing an admirable job. And they are just proud to be leading the group of people, men and women, that they have out there. I just want to thank them.

If you see the military, you can thank them from me. If you're in the airport, having -- a restaurant, they're down the street, thank them. They're doing an impossible job. I would not be here without them.

Third, I would like to thank Maersk and in -- particularly Mr. Moller for doing everything he has done for me since day one, since this started, early in the morning of the 8th.

I can't stress enough how much they have done for me, for my family, for my kids, Dan, Mariah, my mother. And I am just impressed to be able to work for a company like that, who has done so much for me, and Mr. Moller, especially, for going all out and doing everything for me that -- that he's done.

I would like to thank my community, my fellow Vermonters, for showing support. I guess it was




R. PHILLIPS: I guess it was an unbelievable outpouring. I appreciate that. I really do. It's really showing -- you really show your stuff.

For all the support from my fellow Americans, I can't believe this. I'm not a hero. It just -- it just floors me about the -- everything I have read, and shown the support that you have done.

Also, I want to thank my crew. We did it. I told you it wasn't going to be if; it's going to be when. And we did what -- what we trained to do. We're just seamen. We do the best with what we got. And my -- my crew did an excellent job. And I'm so proud of them that they're all home and they are with their loved ones. I want to thank my other company, LMS (ph), for everything they have done for me and the opportunities they have given for -- given to me.

And, last, all my family, Andrea, Mariah, Danny, my mother, Virginia, for the support. They have been there. It's all worth it for them.

And, again, thank you.

I'm not the hero. The military is the hero.


R. PHILLIPS: Thank them.

Thank you.

A. PHILLIPS: Thank you.


R. PHILLIPS: Excuse me?

QUESTION: ... on that boat?


R. PHILLIPS: Indescribable. Indescribable.

Once again, I'm not a hero. The military is. Thank them whenever you see them.


R. PHILLIPS: The military did it. Thank you.

God bless America.


BLITZER: Captain Richard Phillips and his family, a beautiful family, indeed, his two kids, his wife, his mom.

He thanks everyone for getting through this ordeal, a really nice moment to end this piracy -- this piracy nightmare that occurred on the high seas. This captain, he says he's not a hero, but he really is a hero.

All of his crew members credit him, his bravery and willing -- and his willingness to be sacrifice himself and to be taken hostage by those three or four pirates, those young, teen-aged boys who got on board that -- that ship took him in that little lifeboat.

He says he's not a hero, but he really was a hero. They thank him. They credit his bravery for saving their lives.