'This Week' Transcript: Panetta

TAPPER: Scenes from the McChrystal mess, one of many topics for our roundtable with George Will; from The Washington Post Rajiv Chandrasekaran; from the New York Times, David Sanger, and from the U.S. Institute of Peace, Robin Wright.

Thanks so much for joining us.

Normally, I would just go into the McChrystal thing, but Panetta does so few interviews, I do want to go around and just get your take on what you found most interesting.

George, I'll start with you.

WILL: Well, four things. First of all, he repeated the fact that we are in Afghanistan to prevent it from becoming a sovereignty vacuum into which Al Qaida could flow. He said there may be as few as 50 Al Qaida there now, which means we're there to prevent Afghanistan from becoming Yemen and Somalia, which raises the question of what we'll do about them.

Second, the president said our job, on December 1st, is to break the momentum of the Taliban. And Mr. Panetta did not really say we'd done that.

Third, the point of breaking the momentum of the Taliban was to encourage reconciliation so we can get out on -- begin to get out in July 2011. And Mr. Panetta did not suggest there was much evidence of reconciliation, which brings us to the...

TAPPER: Quite the opposite, actually.

WILL: Right, which brings us to the fourth consideration. The argument since the McChrystal debacle is the meaning of the July 2011 deadline. And it evidently has not much meaning.

TAPPER: Rajiv?

CHANDRASEKARAN: That point on reconciliation was a fundamental admission. Reconciliation is a key tenet of the Obama administration's Afghanistan strategy: apply pressure so you'll get those guys to the negotiating table; come up with a deal. We've been pushing the Karzai government for a big peace jirga. Moving forward on that front, Director Panetta sees no sign that any of those key insurgent groups are really ready to come to the table, negotiate meaningfully. That's a big red flag here.

TAPPER: David, you, like everyone else here, knows a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff. But you're, maybe, most expert on Iran. Did he say anything about Iran you thought was interesting?

SANGER: You know, Jake, I saw three things, I thought that he said that was notable. The first was that he believed that the Iranians are still working on the designs for nuclear weapons. Now, that is clearly in contravention to what was in the 2007 NIE, which was the last national intelligence estimate that was put together in the Bush administration.

He said -- he was more specific on the timeline. He said it would take them a year to enrich what they currently had in the way of nuclear fuel into bomb fuel and then another year to turn it into a weapon. So that gives you a pretty good sense where the U.S. believes, you know, is the outline of how far they could let the Iranians go.

And, finally, he said that there was a division with the Israelis on the question of whether the Iranians have determined that they should go ahead with a weapons program with the U.S. believing that there's been no decision made and the Israelis believing that, in fact, the Iranian leadership does want to move ahead with a weapon. I thought all three of those were pretty newsy.

TAPPER: Robin?

WRIGHT: Yes, I -- they took the best headlines already.


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