Transcript: Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen

And so that's why this engagement in dialogue is so important. I think we should do that with all options on the table. As we approach them.

And so that leaves a pretty narrow space in which to achieve a successful dialogue and a successful outcome, which from my perspective means they don't end up with nuclear weapons.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They don't end up with nuclear weapons, but could they have as Japan does a full nuclear fuel cycle program that's fully inspected?

MULLEN: I think that's certainly a possibility and this isn't, at least, from my perspective, from the military perspective, this isn't about them having the ability to produce nuclear power. It's about their desire and their goal to have a nuclear weapon.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, if it comes to this, do you believe it's possible to take out Iran's program, militarily at an acceptable cost?

MULLEN: I won't speculate on what we can and can't do. Again, I put that in the category of my very strong preference is to not be put in a position where we -- where someone -- where Iran is struck in terms of taking out its nuclear capability.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Let me move to Iraq then. U.S. combat forces are scheduled to complete their pullout from Iraqi cities by June 30th. But in recent weeks, we've seen an uptick again in the violence. Does that rise in violence mean that the deadline for pulling American forces out of the cities might not be met?

MULLEN: Oh, I think we're still very much on a track in terms of pulling the forces out of the cities, which is the end of next month. We're on track to decrease the number of troops down to 35,000 to 50,000 in August of 2010.

We've had an uptick in violence, but the overall violence levels are at the 2003 levels. It's still fragile. There's an awful lot of political positioning and political debate that's going on right now, and I think that in great part becomes the essence of how Iraq moves forward.

I'm actually positive about what the Iraqi security forces have done, their army and their police in terms of providing for their own security. They've improved dramatically.

So the path, I think, is still the right path. These ticks, upticks in violence are going to occur. We said that going in, even into -- as we talked about coming down in force. So we just have to, we have to constantly keep an eye on that.

Al Qaida is still active. They're not gone. They're very much...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Al Qaida in Iraq.

MULLEN: Al Qaida in Iraq is very much diminished, but they still have potential to create these kinds of incidents. STEPHANOPOULOS: And the president has said that his overall goal is to have all forces out of Iraq by 2011.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Under the status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: That is pretty unequivocal. Yet I was reading the proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute. They had an interview with Tom Ricks, the U.S. military historian, where he says he worries that the president is being wildly over-optimistic. He says we may be only halfway through the war. And he talks about a conversation he had with the commanding general in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, who told him he'd like to see 35,000 troops in Iraq in 2015. Is that what you expect, as well?

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