This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from March 30, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
BRET BAIER, HOST: The head of U.S. Central Command says the mission for American troops in Afghanistan goes beyond eradicating the Taliban. General David Petraeus said this morning in an exclusive interview that the way the troops are utilized is just as important as how many of them are sent to the country.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND CMDR: It's not just the additional numbers, it's how those numbers are employed. And, it's hugely important that we be seen as good neighbors, as friends — certainly fierce warriors who will go after the enemy and stay after them — but also as individuals who try to avoid civilian casualties whenever possible and are seen again as supporting the people and trying to help them achieve a better life.
BAIER: But General McKiernan has asked for more troops than you're going to give him right now.
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PETRAEUS: Well, he's asked for forces that go out beyond this period. And again, we think it's prudent at this point in time. Let's get — this is a huge increase in terms of — relative to what we had, more than doubling. It's going to take a considerable amount of infrastructure, logistical work and all the rest of that. And I think making those assessments and so forth is the proper way ahead.
BAIER: A big part of this strategy is the Pakistan side. Do you see evidence that the Pakistani military or the intelligence service — the ISI — is assisting the Taliban and Al Qaeda?
PETRAEUS: Well, let's remember the history. The intelligence services, the ISI, with our money and equipment and resources back during the days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, built many of these Mujahideen organizations that sadly have now turned on Pakistani forces and authorities, assassinated Benazir Bhutto, and have killed hundreds of innocent Pakistani civilians.
There are some relationships that continue. It is not as clear as one would like. There's certainly additional focus on that. Obviously, we've had these conversations with our counterparts, with the head of ISI, Lieutenant General Pasha, and others. There is a case in the past year or so that we think was unambiguous. There appears to have been a warning prior to a Pakistani operation.
The others though are a little bit less clear in the sense that any intelligence organization has contacts with extremist groups because they're trying to recruit sources among them. And we do the same thing.
BAIER: But do you trust the Pakistanis? Do you trust them?
PETRAEUS: I think we are building that kind of trust. And that's the way I think is the best description for that. And it's hugely important that that trust be built.
There's a number of initiatives ongoing in that regard. There's a joint coordination center, for example, that is a tripartite: It's Afghan, Pakistan and U.S. forces just near the Khyber Pass in which there is gradually increasing intelligence sharing going on. And there have been some breakthroughs in that area in recent weeks.
There's additional work supporting, always enabling, assisting and providing for the Pakistani Frontier Corps in particular, and the military, but not doing. And that's the way I think that every one wants this to go forward.
BAIER: But yet, if there is a specific target, the president has said that there could be cross-border operations by U.S. troops going into Pakistan. Is that accurate to say?
PETRAEUS: Well, I think you should just go back to what he said yesterday. I think he was clear. And I think we would never give up, if you will, the right of last resort if we assess something as a threat to us, noting that what we want to do is enable the Pakistanis, help them, assist them to deal with the problem that we now think and their leaders certainly now think represents the most important existential threat to their country, not just to the rest of the world.
BAIER: As you focus now on Afghanistan and Pakistan, your last job was the head of the U.S. military in Iraq. Do you have any concerns that we would take our eyes off Iraq and that potentially could explode into another problem once U.S. troops draw down?
PETRAEUS: Well, that's what we have to avoid, obviously. And I think that the approach that we have there is prudent, it's pragmatic. It is designed to reduce our forces over time, as Iraqi forces take over the security tasks.
That process has been ongoing for some time. As you know, that has worked successfully. We think the prospects for that continuing to work successfully are reasonable and good.
The provincial elections that were just conducted a couple of months ago, successfully done. Now we'll see the seating of the provincial councils.
Having said that, innumerable challenges still face the new Iraq. They're working their way through those but General Odierno and the embassy team, they're moving through this nicely, allowing us to bring our forces down there.
BAIER: How big a threat is Iran? And are they closer now to getting a nuclear weapon?
PETRAEUS: Well, Iran is some years away. It's hard to say how many — a couple, give or take, whatever it may be. They have low-enriched uranium that is about the amount that would be required perhaps to make a weapon, but there are many, many more steps that are required.
You have to highly enrich it. That requires a facility to do that, which we're not aware of them having right now. It requires the physical construction of a package that can either explode or implode. There's other steps — intermediate steps — between those. And then you have to have the delivery means.
Now, various components of these efforts appear to be ongoing. And certainly, Iran has not complied with the IAEA safeguards and some other precautions under the U.N. Security Council resolutions.
But are they a threat? Certainly. They have armed, equipped, funded surrogates — proxies, if you will — extremist proxies, in Lebanon, in Gaza Strip, varying degrees in Iraq.
Having said that, there are also, though, areas of common interest. And I think that the task that is before Ambassador Ross, one of our country's finest diplomats in recent years who has taken on the portfolio that includes a bundle of issues with Iran, will be to see where these common interests converge, where they can be played on and built on, to perhaps address some of these very significant differences that we have had with Iran for decades.
BAIER: Do you have any interest in running for elected office?
PETRAEUS: I do not.
BAIER: At all?
PETRAEUS: Not at all. And I've tried to say that on numerous occasions, and I will now quote from a song that used to be sung by Lori Morgan, "What about no don't you understand?"
BAIER: Not heading to Iowa anytime soon?
PETRAEUS: No. And that was a blog. He admitted that that was made up. We got that back in the box, I think, and no commencement addresses in Iowa in 2010.
BAIER: All right.
General, thanks so much.
PETRAEUS: Great to be with you. Thanks.
BAIER: Thanks to General David Petraeus for that interview.
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