In an interaction following his address to the Pacific Council on International Policy, Panetta said, "With regard to Pakistan's nuclear capability, obviously, we do try to understand where all of these are located. We don't have frankly the intelligence to know where they all are located."
"But we do track the Pakistanis and I think the president (Barack Obama [ Images ]) indicated this in an interview that right now we are confident that the Pakistanis have a pretty secure approach to trying to protect these weapons," he said.
Panetta was referring to President Obama telling Newsweek magazine in an interview that while he does not want 'to engage in hypotheticals around Pakistan', the United States had 'confidence' that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal was safe; that the Pakistani military was 'equipped to prevent extremists from taking over the arsenal'.
Panetta said on Monday that while the US believes Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is secure, "it is something that we continue to watch because obviously the last thing we want is to have the Taliban [ Images ] have access to nuclear weapons in Pakistan."
"We are fighting obviously that potential in Iran, we are fighting it elsewhere, and so, the last thing we would want to have is to give Al Qaeda [ Images ] that potential. So, we continue to watch that very closely," the CIA chief reiterated.
The CIA director said the Obama administration was also struggling to make the Pakistanis realise that the real existential threat to Pakistan is not from India [ Images ], its long-time adversary, but from the terrorists who threaten the State internally.
But he acknowledged that it was not easy to get the Pakistanis to get away from their entrenched mindset that India was the foremost threat.
"One of the challenges we face in confronting Al Qaeda and the Taliban and other terrorist groups that are within these tribal areas -- one of the things that we have struggled to do is to make Pakistan recognise that they represent a threat to their stability," he said.
"Pakistan, as you know, their primary focus has always been on India and the threat from India, and that to a large extent these areas had been ignored," he explained.
"Look, there's a real threat here that we are confronting and that you have to view this as a common threat and that it's not just the United States, it's not just Afghanistan, it's Pakistan, and that when they blow up things in your streets, you know when the Marriott is blown up, this is a threat to your stability."
"It's still hard to change that mindset over the India threat. If the Pakistanis recognise that as a real threat, then we can create the partnership we need in order to deal with it," he said.
"Now military operations are going on in Swat and Buner [ Images ] and other areas," he acknowledged, however adding, "The key is not whether they simply go in and bring in the tanks and clear the Taliban and then back out and allow the Taliban to go back in. They've got to clear these areas and hold them -- that is very important if it's going to work."
Thus, Panetta reiterated that "it's extremely important for Pakistan to recognise the threat that it constitutes to their stability, and I do sense that President (Asif Ali) Zardari and the other leadership in Pakistan recognises that -- that they have got to do more to confront this issue."