United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told US Marines and sailors on Friday that Afghanistan is making progress against the Taliban but Iran remains a potential threat to the US.
"If Israel decides to go after Iran and we have to defend ourselves, we could be engaged sooner than any of us want," he said.
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It was not clear whether Panetta was saying the United States would automatically be engaged if Israel would attack. It also is not clear if the Obama administration has plans to be engaged with Iran.
"Our focus is on diplomacy and international pressure on Iran. I'm not going to speculate on what would happen in various scenarios other than to say that we will be ready," Carl Woog, Panetta's spokesman, said later.
"The secretary said we have plans for any contingency and we're not going to speculate about timelines or future actions," he added.
US role in Afghanistan winding down
Answering questions from service members and journalists, Panetta also said last year was a turning point for the war in Afghanistan, where the US is winding down its combat role.
Afghan forces are doing their job in the country and more than 50% of the Afghan population is now living in areas secured by the Afghan government – showing the US strategy of handing over the security to them is working – but ultimately it will be up to Afghans, the secretary said.
"We can't let anything, anything undermine that strategy," he said.
He said the level of violence in Afghanistan dropped last year for the first time in five years and the Taliban was weakened.
Panetta also addressed North Korea's threat to fire a missile.
"They've done this before. We thought we were in a period of accommodation with them. Now it looks like we're in a period of provocation," Panetta said, adding later: "Our hope is that you know it is just provocation for the moment."
On Friday, Time Magazine reported that the Mossad has scaled back covert operations inside Iran, cutting secret efforts to disable or delay the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program "by dozens of percents" in recent months.
Citing senior Israeli security officials, the report claimed that a wide array of operations have been cut, including alleged high-profile missions such as assassinations and detonations at Iranian missile bases and efforts to gather intelligence and recruit spies inside the Iranian program.
AP contributed to this report
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