Hagel: Achieving Agreement With Iran Will Take Time

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, as seen on Monday at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. Speaking on Thursday at a Defense One conference, Hagel urged global patience in allowing talks with Iran to play out.
National Journal
Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire
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Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire
Nov. 14, 2013, 4:02 p.m.

WASH­ING­TON — U.S. De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel on Thursday urged the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­ter­na­tion­al and do­mest­ic crit­ics to give ne­go­ti­ations with Ir­an over its con­tested nuc­le­ar pro­gram suf­fi­cient time and space to play out.

“En­gage­ment is not sur­render,” Hagel said at a “De­fense One Sum­mit,” sponsored by a Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire part­ner pub­lic­a­tion. “It’s not ap­pease­ment. And en­gage­ment is not ne­go­ti­ation.”

The De­fense sec­ret­ary said he “felt sorry for Sec­ret­ary Kerry,” giv­en the cri­ti­cism that top U.S. dip­lo­mat John Kerry has re­ceived for not hav­ing clinched an Ir­an deal in Geneva last week along with his “P-5+1” part­ners. The mul­tina­tion­al talks are aimed at pre­vent­ing Tehran from gain­ing an abil­ity to build nuc­le­ar arms in ex­change for re­lief from eco­nom­ic sanc­tions.

Ir­an is dis­cuss­ing that pos­sib­il­ity, un­der the stew­ard­ship of mod­er­ate Pres­id­ent Has­san Rouh­ani, along with the five per­man­ent mem­bers of the U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil — China, France, Rus­sia, the United King­dom, and United States — plus Ger­many.

Hagel counseled more pa­tience, sug­gest­ing that ne­go­ti­ations ac­tu­ally had yet to be­gin and say­ing it was un­real­ist­ic that they would bear fruit im­me­di­ately.

“Wait a minute! We’ve been lit­er­ally at some kind of an in­form­al, un­of­fi­cial war with Ir­an since 1979,” he said. “Does any­body really think that we’re all go­ing to get to­geth­er [with] the P-5+1 for a week, and come out of that deal with some tidy little agree­ment?”

Hagel ad­ded that all parties in­volved have “polit­ic­al is­sues” to con­tend with. “This is go­ing to take time, if we’re go­ing to be able to move some­where,” he said.

“At the same time, you al­ways keep a ready, cap­able mil­it­ary that is second to none in the world” as lever­age in the talks, Hagel said. He ad­ded that re­cent suc­cess in per­suad­ing Syr­ia to elim­in­ate its chem­ic­al weapons ar­sen­al was due in large part to the “real, live threat of mil­it­ary force against Syr­ia.”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken sharp cri­ti­cism from Is­raeli lead­ers for an al­leged will­ing­ness to make deep con­ces­sions to Tehran on lift­ing sanc­tions and al­low­ing con­tin­ued urani­um-en­rich­ment in the Per­sian Gulf na­tion.

Mean­while, U.S. law­makers in both cham­bers are pur­su­ing le­gis­la­tion to im­pose new Ir­an sanc­tions in hopes of for­cing a deal that is stricter on Tehran. Kerry and oth­er ad­min­is­tra­tion lead­ers have warned, however, that any such meas­ures could spoil a po­ten­tially fleet­ing op­por­tun­ity for an agree­ment that would rein in Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar ef­fort.

Hagel called Ir­an “a very dan­ger­ous, leth­al, state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism” that causes “tre­mend­ous trouble all over the Middle East, for us [and] for a lot of na­tions.”

However, he said, “if we can move to­ward some com­mon in­terest, to move to some high­er ground, to some pos­sible — po­ten­tial — res­ol­u­tion to a prob­lem, aren’t we smarter to do that?”

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