Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he "felt sorry" for Secretary of State John Kerry as members of Congress and pundits skewered the Obama administration for failing to reach an agreement on Iran's nuclear program in Geneva last week.
Speaking at the Defense One summit in Washington, Hagel defended the ongoing diplomatic outreach aimed at eventually curbing Iran's nuclear program.
"If we can move toward some common interest, move to some higher ground, to some possible potential resolution to a problem, aren't we smarter to do that? Engagement is not surrender. It is not appeasement," Hagel said.
"I felt sorry for Secretary Kerry, because people jumped into this, saying 'Well, he didn't get anything; he didn't get a deal.' Wait a minute. We've been at some kind of unofficial war with Iran since 1979. Does anybody really think we're all going to get together in some kind of P5+1 [negotiations] for a week and come out of that with some tiny little agreement?"
All the world powers at stake — and Iran, too — have political issues to contend with in the negotiations, Hagel continued. "It's going to take time," he said.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, members of Congress from both parties are talking tough about keeping the existing raft of sanctions against Iran in place, and possibly even levying more measures against the Islamic Republic despite the administration's pleas for them to hold off.
Hagel cautioned against abandoning diplomacy and risking another war, especially as the U.S. draws down its forces after more than a decade of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Still, Hagel stressed the need for keeping the U.S. military at the ready for any possibility. The threat of military force recently proved effective in convincing President Bashar al-Assad to agree to a deal to destroy chemical weapons in his country.
"I don't think we would have had any kind of opening to get to where we are with chemical weapons in Syria "¦ without the real, live threat of military force," Hagel said. "Whether it's Iran or Syria, it's how do you smartly use your military to influence outcomes."