Leon Panetta says if North Korea takes the wrong step, "it's the end of the regime"

Panetta on North Korea

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sunday that if North Korea takes a wrong step, the U.S. has the capability to wipe the regime "off the face of the Earth."

"I think the North Koreans understand that if they take the wrong step, it's the end of the regime, period," Panetta said in an interview on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Responding to President Trump's rhetoric toward North Korea last week, Panetta said that he's never felt that you can "out-bully a bully by trying to threaten that individual with words."

"The reality is, what speaks the loudest for the United States of America is the fact that we're the most powerful country on the face of the Earth and we have the military capability to wipe that regime off the face of the Earth."

He said the U.S. must convey a clear strategy of "containment and deterrence" and added that the country needs a president who is steady, calm, responsible, "and who recognizes that the most important thing right now is to find a way that we do not get into a war." 

The president's "fire and fury" and "locked and loaded" remarks on North Korea last week, Panetta said, have "frankly created even greater tensions in that part of the world."

On the weekend violence in Virginia, Panetta said President Trump's "failure to address what really happened in Charlottesville, and the role of white supremacists, I think, also sends a message that he is not recognizing the real causes of crises, even within our own country."

Panetta also contradicted current CIA Director Mike Pompeo's characterization, in a separate interview on "Face the Nation," of the progress made by North Korea's missile and nuclear programs. Pompeo dismissed reports that the North's weapons programs had advanced faster than previously expected. "That's actually not true," Pompeo said. "It's not moving faster than policymakers knew."

Panetta disagreed: "I think that the rapid nature of how they've been able to come to that capability is something, frankly, that has surprised both the United States and the world."

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    Rebecca Shabad

    Rebecca Shabad is a video reporter for CBS News Digital.