Adm. Mullen: Pakistan Nukes Secure But…

Pakistani paramilitary maintain a position on a high post in the troubled area of Pakistan's Lower Dir district, Sunday, April 26, 2009. Pakistan launched an operation against militants Sunday in a district covered by a government-backed peace deal, threatening the survival of a pact that raised U.S. concerns about the country's willingness to confront the insurgents. (AP Photo/Ruhullah Shakir) AP Photo/Ruhullah Shakir

The Pentagon's top military officer said Monday that he is comfortable that Pakistan's nuclear weapons remain secure, but is gravely concerned about Taliban advances there and in Afghanistan.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the United States has worked with the Pakistanis to improve the security of their nuclear arsenal and he believes that country's military is focused on keeping them secure.

While he acknowledged that there is a limit to what the United States knows about the nuclear weapons, he believes that Pakistan's military leaders understand the threat if it falls into the insurgents hands.

"I know what we've done over the last three years, specifically, to both invest, assist (Pakistan), and I've watched them improve their security fairly dramatically over the last three years," Mullen said.

He said he does not believe that Pakistan's nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of terrorists. But when asked if he would say he is confident - rather than just comfortable - with the state of Pakistan's nuclear security, he stuck with the latter.

Instead, Mullen said his greater worry is Pakistan's ability to sustain their military operations, as Taliban violence surges in the region.

"I'm gravely concerned about the progress they (the Taliban) have made in the south and inside Pakistan," Mullen said. "The consequences of their success directly threaten our national interests in the region and our safety here at home."

U.S. administration and military leaders have said that success in the Afghanistan war is linked to security in Pakistan. And officials will meet this week with leaders from both countries. Part of those meetings will focus on setting benchmarks for economic, political and military progress there.

Mullen would not detail the benchmarks under discussion, but he said that the U.S. must have patience as it works to solidify a relationship with Pakistan, that can lead to a more secure region.

"We're just going through a very hard time right now in building it, and that's going to take considerable effort," said Mullen, adding that it also will take "an extended period of time to get this right."

Defeating the militants in Pakistan is critical to U.S. success on the Afghan side of the border, Mullen told CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent last week.

"There is a direct relationship," he said.
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