WASHINGTON– The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff addressed the situation in Iraq, relations with North Korea, China and Russia and possible changes to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy during an appearance on a television news show Sunday.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told CNN’s John King, on the network’s State of the Union program, he is confident that the withdrawal of American forces out of Iraqi cities and towns has been a very positive step.

Mullen said U.S. forces are alert during this period of transition, but there has been no indication that sectarian violence is returning.

“We have had an uptick in some major, high-profile attacks, but June of this year was the lowest level of violence (in Iraq) since the war started,” he said.

Leaders in Iraq are pleased with the start of the transition, but the chairman reminded people that the transition is only five days old.

“We’re aware of this period of vulnerability, but up to now it’s gone pretty well,” he said.

There are 130,000 American troops in Iraq today. By this time next year, plans call for that number to be down to 35,000 to 50,000, with all American forces out of the country by the end of 2011. The next big events in Iraq are the elections at the beginning of 2010, and Mullen said he sees nothing that will change these plans.

The chairman discussed North Korea’s missile program. North Korea fired seven missiles yesterday in violation of United Nations resolutions.

“They continue to thumb their noses at the international community,” Mullen said.

The international community – including long-time North Korean allies Russia and China – are continuing to put pressure on North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, and that must continue, he said.

The U.S. military is working to maintain dialogue with the Chinese, the chairman said.
The chairman will accompany President Obama to Russia for talks with President Dmitriy Medvedev. They will discuss cutting nuclear arsenals and other issues.

“We have areas where we have common interests – Iran is certainly one of those areas,” Mullen said.

Russia also has common interests with the United States in Afghanistan, in regards to piracy and in counterterrorism writ large. “We have things that we can discuss and are very positive and can move forward on,” Mullen said.

Mullen also spoke about the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The U.S. military will continue to carry out the law until the law changes, he said.

The Defense Department is reviewing the law to ensure it is being enforced fairly to all concerned, Mullen said.

“It’s very clear that President Obama intends to see this law changed,” he said.

Mullen said he told the president the military needs to move in a measured way given the military is fighting two conflicts. The chairman is discussing the issue with his staff and ways to move forward.

“What I feel most obligated about is to give the president my best advice should this law change, and the impact of that change on our people and their families at these very challenging times,” Mullen said.

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