Image: Leon Panetta
Carlos Osorio  /  AP
CIA Director Leon Panetta speaks at the Bint Jebail Cultural Center in Dearborn, Mich., on Wednesday, during the iftar, the evening meal that breaks the fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
updated 9/16/2009 9:52:23 PM ET 2009-09-17T01:52:23

The director of the CIA beseeched Arab-American and Muslim leaders Wednesday to join efforts to reduce the threat of terrorism in the U.S.

Speaking in the heart of Michigan's large Middle Eastern Community, Leon Panetta said the country is safer than when it was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, though al-Qaida still remains a threat.

"I need you. The nation needs you," Panetta said during a 25-minute speech to about 150 people at an iftar, the evening meal that breaks the fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The address represented one of the Central Intelligence Agency's highest-profile recruiting efforts aimed at Arab-Americans and Muslims. Panetta said it was his first speech at a Ramadan break-fast dinner.

The agency this year announced a five-year plan to boost fluency in Arabic and other languages the CIA deems critical to its work. Panetta aims to raise foreign language proficiency inside the CIA from less than a third to at least half of all analysts and intelligence operatives.

He told the gathering he hopes to increase the share of the agency's work force that has foreign language skills. The agency seeks highly skilled workers in 90 different areas, including analysts, engineers and doctors, he said.

"We have to reflect the face of this nation, and we have to reflect the face of the world," said Panetta, drawing applause from the gathering.

Earlier, he told reporters her never considered resigning from the job he took in February, despite a battle with Attorney General Eric Holder over his decision to investigate some agency officials in past interrogations of terrorism case detainees.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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