The outgoing director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency says the agency has hampered al-Qaida's free reign in the tribal regions of western Pakistan.
CIA Director Michael Hayden also told reporters Thursday he believed Iran was nearing a decision on whether to continue its nuclear program. Hayden made the remarks at agency headquarters, near Washington, in what was probably his final news conference with reporters.
U.S. intelligence officials have said Pakistani militants in the tribal areas have allied with al-Qaida in plotting attacks against American and allied troops in Afghanistan. The United States currently uses drone attacks to target foreign militants in the region.
Hayden said Islamic militants are realizing that the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan is neither safe nor a haven. The Bloomberg news agency cited him as saying confronting al-Qaida must be a priority for the next agency director.
Incoming U.S. President Barack Obama has picked Leon Panetta to held the CIA. Panetta was chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.
Hayden has said previously that al-Qaida's establishment of a safe haven in Pakistan's border areas presents a clear and present danger to the region and the United States.
But he also has said leader Osama bin Laden appears to be isolated from the terrorist group's day-to-day operations and has been forced to devote much of his energy to his own security. Mr. Obama said Wednesday that al-Qaida and bin Laden are the number one threats to security in the United States
Hayden has said bin Laden's death or capture would have a significant impact on the confidence of the terrorist leader's followers.
Separately, the CIA chief said weak global oil prices are could hurt major oil producers like Iran and Venezuela. But he said Russia can weather fluctuations more easily.
Venezuela is a major supplier to the United States.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, Bloomberg and Reuters.