US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called reports that Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai confirmed talks between US, the Afghan government and Taliban officials “extremely helpful.”
“It’s always been important for us to make clear that reconciliation has to be Afghan-led,” he said. “What President Karzai’s statement confirmed is that Afghanistan is now very much involved in the process of reconciliation.”
That involvement is essential to determining whether or not it is feasible to reconcile Taliban former insurgents with a stable Afghan central government, the secretary said following a bilateral meeting with German Minister of Defense.
On Syria, Panetta said he is disturbed by indications Al-Qaeda in Iraq members have infiltrated the opposition there, as Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
“We have to continue to work with the Arab League and determine what steps should be taken to try to deal with the situation in Syria,” Panetta said.
While the United State’s focus thus far has been on applying diplomatic and economic pressure on the Assad regime, the secretary said Al-Qaeda’s attempt to establish a presence in the conflict-riven nation heightens worries about Syria.
“Frankly, our concerns, which were large to begin with… the situation there has become much more serious,” he said.
The extent of Al-Qaeda’s involvement in Syrian opposition forces is unclear, Panetta said.
“A lot remains to be seen as to exactly what their role is,” he said. “Just the fact that they’re present concerns us.”
De Maiziere responded to a question on how Germany should respond to rising tensions about possible military action involving Israel and Iran.
“We view the developments with great concern, but also believe the focus of the discussion is too much on Israel and not enough on Iran,” the minister responded in German and through an English translator.
“Iran is the recipient of sanctions, and the sanctions, which were also brought about with the assistance of Germany, are currently as strong as never before,” he continued.
Interested nations should use every opportunity for a peaceful resolution to questions about Iran, he said.
“I hope Israel will join the efforts of the international community and will not resort to unilateral action,” De Maiziere said.
“Germany will also stand by Israel. What this means in concrete terms remains to be seen.”
Panetta said the US shares common cause with the international community and Israel in concerns about Iran.