Mar 312012

In visit to ship off California coast, Defense Secretary Panetta blasts automatic defense cuts resulting from Congress’ failure to find $1.2T in savings and says Congress ‘put gun to heads of the country.’

In a visit to this amphibious assault ship off the Southern California coast, he also said Afghanistan is making progress against the Taliban but Iran remains a potential threat to the U.S.

A budget agreement reached last August calls for defense cuts of $487 billion over a decade, a reflection of the drawdown of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the pressure to reduce the nation’s deficit.

The failure of Congress’ so-called “supercommittee” to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in savings means automatic cuts of more than $1 trillion next January to defense and domestic programs.

Congress “did a stupid thing” in risking the $50 billion in reductions that would kick in next January, Panetta told hundreds of Marines and sailors.

“What they essentially did is put a gun to their heads and the heads of the country,” he said.

Afghanistan’s neighbor, Iran, continues to be a threat to U.S. interests, however.

“If Israel decides to go after Iran and we have to defend ourselves, we could be engaged sooner than any of us wants,” he said.

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.

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. Now it looks like we’re in a period of provocation,” Panetta said.

“Our hope is that it is just provocation for the moment,” he said.

Full article

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