US must keep up pressure on al Qaeda: Panetta

US defence secretary is confident Pentagon can manage budget reductions without weakening military.

Washington: US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on Friday he is confident the Pentagon can manage coming budget reductions without weakening the military.

At his formal swearing-in ceremony, the former CIA director also said that if the US remains committed to pressuring al Qaeda, then it will achieve its aim of denying terrorists an opportunity to again attack the American homeland.

"I believe that we are within reach of achieving the strategic defeat of al Qaeda," he said, repeating an assessment he first mentioned shortly after taking office July 01. "But to do that we have to continue to put pressure on them wherever they are. If we do and if we continue that commitment, then ultimately we will succeed."

Panetta said he knew when he agreed to take the Pentagon job that he would have to confront tough choices on the budget.

"We can do this in a way that will strengthen us for the future," he said.

With his wife, Sylvia, at his side, the 73-year-old Panetta was sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden at the Pentagon. It was a ceremonial act because Panetta was officially sworn in when he assumed the office.

Biden joked that they decided to hold a second swearing-in after noticing that since taking over for Robert Gates, Panetta has flown back to his home in California several times, "and we were worried he`s changed his mind”.

Panetta flashed his own sense of humour. He noted that he and Biden both have a tendency to say things that sometimes get them in trouble.

"There was some talk here of trying to put a seven-second delay on the microphone for this ceremony," he said. "But I can`t imagine why the hell that would be necessary”.

Bureau Report

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