Full Transcript: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta Sits Down With Martha Raddatz


SECRETARY PANETTA: You know -- the exact motivations -- again I'm -- I'm just not sure of. All I do know is that -- when you're dealing with -- with affiliates of Al Qaeda -- that they're terrorists and they will do terrorist acts. And that's what they've done here. We've faced this kind of terrorism (CELL PHONE RINGS) from Al Qaeda -- we've faced this kind of terrorism from Al Qaeda -- beginning with 9/11. We faced it -- we faced it in Pakistan, we faced it in Afghanistan. We've seen it in Somalia, we've seen it in Yemen. And now we're seeing it -- in -- in Algeria. That's what terrorists do. They have n -- they have total disregard for -- innocent men and women and children. And it's reflected in what they just did here in Algeria.

MARTHA RADDATZ: I know you have been concerned about Mali for a long time. What kind of involvement do you see the U.S. having there? And is there a red line that would be crossed in Mali where the U.S. would put boots on the ground?

SECRETARY PANETTA: You know, I -- I think right now that -- and I've always felt this way about -- Mali is that -- the best way to address that -- is -- with the international community working with African nations -- to determine exactly, you know, w -- where -- where -- is AQIM located, where are the targets of opportunity and how can we address those targets -- together. And -- what France has done here -- which -- which I commend -- is to try to stop the momentum of -- AQIM to establish a base of operations in Mali. And -- we are obviously -- working with the international community to determine -- what kind of -- assistance can be provided -- and also -- working with France to determine exactly what the objectives have to be. The key, I think, is that ultimately the African nations, particularly the West African nations -- ECOWAS have to ultimately go in and resume responsibility for providing security in Mali. That—

MARTHA RADDATZ: So you don't ever see -- American boots on the ground with this situation in Mali?

SECRETARY PANETTA: Not at this time.

MARTHA RADDATZ: And how concerned should Americans be about the Al Qaeda presence there? Why should Americans be concerned about an Al Qaeda presence in Mali?

SECRETARY PANETTA: Americans have to be concerned about Al Qaeda wherever they are -- they're at. You know, we've -- we've made clear -- both in my past job as director of the C.I.A. and in this job that Al Qaeda should have no place to hide. We've gotta go after 'em wherever they are. Because -- they have made v -- very clear that their primary objective is to attack the United States of America. And -- as long as that is their objective -- we have to confront them and make sure that -- we do everything possible -- to deter them from doing that -- to go after their leadership -- and to ensure that the American people are kept safe. That's -- that's been the challenge of the last ten years. And AQIM in Mali represents just another facet of Al Qaeda trying to establish a base of operations from which ultimately they could -- try to attack the United States and Europe. And that's unacceptable.

MARTHA RADDATZ: And -- let's move to Syria if we can. There was a report of a State Department cable that said there was very strong evidence that in fact the Syrians had used chemical weapons, specifically Agent 15, in homes in late December.

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