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New U.S. Defense Secretary Says 'No Choice' But To Work Out Problems With Pakistan

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during a conversation hosted by the National Defense University and CNN in Washington on August 16
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says Washington has "no choice" but to work out its troubled relations with Pakistan because it needs Islamabad's help fighting Al-Qaeda.

Speaking alongside U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a televised event in Washington, Panetta said nuclear-power Pakistan represents "an important force in that region" and is the United States is "fighting a war there."

The U.S. defense secretary, who assumed the post last month after leading the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) since 2009, also offered an upbeat assessment of progress in the U.S.-led fight against Taliban militants in Afghanistan.

"We are making very good progress in terms of security, particularly in the south and southwest. Those are difficult areas," Panetta said. "We've now got to try to improve the situation in the east. But overall, the situation is doing much better. We have weakened the Taliban significantly, and we're continuing to work on that. We are continuing to build the Afghan army and police."

Relations between Washington and Islamabad were dealt a public blow recently when a report emerged suggesting that Pakistan had passed along key information about U.S. stealth technology from a helicopter that crashed during the successful mission in early May to kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Pakistani territory. Pakistan's denial was followed by a similar rejection from China.

Clinton On Syria

The wide-ranging, moderated discussion with Clinton and Panetta included questions about U.S. policy toward the Arab world.

Clinton defended the Obama administration's decision not to call for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to step down despite his brutal crackdown on citizens calling for reform. Rights activists say more than 1,800 people have been killed by Syrian state security forces since demonstrations against Assad's authoritarian regime began in March.

Clinton said condemnation from the entire Arab world will be more effective than a U.S. call for Assad to leave.

"It's not going to be any news if the United States says, 'Assad needs to go.' OK, fine. What's next?," she said. "If Turkey says it, if [Jordan's] King Abdullah says it, if other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it."

An August 3 statement approved by all 15 members of the United Nations Security Council condemned Assad's use of force and human rights violations against civilians.
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