Full Transcript: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta

TAPPER: China has been very aggressive in the South China Sea in the last few years. There have been some near-skirmishes. How concerned are you, considering especially that we have treaties with the Philippines and Japan, that China's aggression could end up having – creating a situation where there might actually be military involvement that we have to get involved in? How much does that concern you?

PANETTA: Well, you know, we – we want to make sure that we take all of the steps necessary to avoid those kinds of potential conflicts. And in order to do that, it's very important for us to develop a mil-to-mil relationship with China so that we can discuss these issues. I mean, when it comes to the South China Sea, the fact is that we have to protect our naval sea lanes. We've got to protect our maritime rights. We've got to recognize that there are international rules here that apply--that this is not an area that is controlled by any one country, that in order to conduct trade--in order to provide for peaceful exchanges, we have to be able to protect those rights.

To do that, we've got to engage these countries. And so one of the reasons I'm going to China is to follow up on the president's efforts to try to establish lines of communication with them that deals with these kinds of issues. Because the last thing you want to avoid is a mistake by one country or another that decides that their only option is to use military force. If that happens, then I think we have a great concern about our ability to then maintain peace in that part of the world.

TAPPER: There's been a lot in the press in the last few days about the fact that the Obama administration cooperated with the filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Michael Boal, who are making this Bin Laden film. What is your response to the controversy and can you assert that nothing inappropriate was shared with these filmmakers?

PANETTA: Yeah – nothing inappropriate was shared with them, Jake. You know, we get inquires everyday from the entertainment industry. We get inquiries from people writing articles, from people writing books, people doing television shows. And the process that we've established is that you know, we will work with those individuals. We'll try to make sure that we give them accurate information so that the historic record is protected. But you know, we do not share anything that is inappropriate with anybody.

TAPPER: You were head of the CIA when bin Laden was captured. Now you're head of the Pentagon. There was an effort by the Obama campaign to talk more about the capture and killing of bin Laden. What is your take on this? Are you uncomfortable at all with what some have described as chest-thumping? Are the Navy SEALs and the Nightstalker pilots getting enough credit?

PANETTA: You know, I guess my view, having participated in that operation, is that it was something very special in terms of both the intelligence and military communities working together to go after bin Laden and doing it successfully. And whether you're Republicans, whether you're Democrats, whether you're Independents, I think this country ought to be proud of what our intelligence and military community did. And you know what, I'll let history be the judge as to whether or not that was a successful mission.

TAPPER: Well, obviously it was a successful mission but the politicization of it, that doesn't make you uncomfortable at all?

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