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


SECRETARY PANETTA: You know -- the thing that I've -- I've observed in the time that -- I've been secretary and have -- worked with my counterparts in -- in Israel is that -- we really do have the same objective here. The objective is to make sure that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon. And -- the international community has come together on that same issue. It's very organized, it's im -- it's implemented the toughest sanctions -- that we can against Iran. We're all seeking to try to send a clear message that they should negotiate and try to resolve these issues. But -- I -- I think that at this point in time, you know, all of us need to -- to make clear that the first priority is to sit and negotiate. The last option ought to be military action. And we have to have very clear intelligence that they are in fact -- developing a nuclear weapon before military action should be taken.

MARTHA RADDATZ: Move to Afghanistan. How many troops do you think we'll have in Afghanistan by the end of this year? Could it be fewer than thirty s -- 30,000?

SECRETARY PANETTA: You know -- I'm -- General Allen has -- h -- has -- has looked at -- at the situation -- that we're facing right now in Afghanistan. I mean, he does think that -- good progress has been made on his -- his -- combat plan for Afghanistan. We're looking at -- some time in the late spring -- turning over combat operations to the Afghans. And we'll -- we'll be in support. And that's -- that's a good thing. But -- you know, we're still in for a fighting season -- in the summer. And the last tranche of districts to be transferred will take place in August. So that's -- that's kind of a critical period. If we get through that critical period, I think the likelihood is that -- General Allen will recommend, you know -- a drawdown -- towards the end of 2013. We'll have to maintain a s -- a sufficient force to deal with the elections which will take place in 2014. And after those elections we'll then do the final drawdown towards the end of 2014. What the exact numbers are, I think we're still waiting for those recommendations from General Allen.

MARTHA RADDATZ: But could you see after this fighting season cutting the troops in half? I mean, if you get through that fighting season, why not?

SECRETARY PANETTA: You know, I -- I don't even want to jump to that conclusion at this point because I think we have a long way to go. We've gotta get -- you know, we've gotta get through these next few months, we've gotta provide the lead on combat operations to the Afghans with -- ISAF and support. I think I -- I'd like to see how that plays out during -- I would like to see -- the -- the United States look at -- you know, what happens during these next -- summer months where the -- where we'll still face the fighting -- from the Taliban -- look at how the final tranche is put into place. 'Cause don't forget, those are the toughest areas on the east that have to be transitioned to -- Afghan control and security. And then based on that -- make decisions -- for what the level of drawdown ought to be.

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