First Published: 2013-01-31

 

Nominee for US defense secretary ready to attack Iran

 

Hagel says Iran should face severe and growing consequences if it continues to flout international community.

 

Middle East Online

Like all defense secretaries before him

WASHINGTON - U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee for defense secretary says the "window is closing" on Iran and the possibility of diplomacy if it continues to ignore international demands to end pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

Chuck Hagel made the comments in a 112-page questionnaire for the Senate

Armed Services Committee. The panel submitted the extensive questions to Hagel in advance of his confirmation hearing on Thursday.

Hagel said Iran needs to show that it is prepared to negotiate seriously. Iran insists that it is not seeking nuclear arms and its uranium enrichment program is for peaceful purposes.

Hagel said Iran should face "severe and growing consequences" if it continues to flout the international community.

The Vietnam War veteran will face a tough grilling Thursday from Republicans who have painted him as hostile toward Israel and ready to appease Iran.

When Hagel appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing, Republican critics are expected to hammer him over his blunt comments in years past and to paint him as naive when it comes to national security.

"Too often, it seems, he is willing to subscribe to a world view that is predicated on appeasing our adversaries while shunning our friends," Senator Jim Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote in a recent commentary in The Washington Post.

But despite the harsh criticism and a conservative media blitz against Hagel, the White House is optimistic that the Senate will approve his nomination in the end, albeit with little support from the Republican minority.

Prominent Republicans view Hagel, a former senator, as a traitor to their party for breaking with ex-president George W. Bush over the Iraq war, which he reluctantly supported before becoming disillusioned.

A fellow Vietnam veteran, Senator John McCain, is expected to take Hagel to task over his opposition to the troop surge in Iraq, which Hagel at the time referred to as "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam."

Hagel's off-the-cuff references to the "Jewish lobby" and that he was "not an Israeli senator," along with some of his stances while in Congress, have provided ammunition to some pro-Israel lobbyists and politicians who say he cannot be trusted to back the close US ally.

To soothe those concerns, Hagel has promised to stand by Israel and held a flurry of meetings with lawmakers, including Democrat Chuck Schumer, seen as an influential Jewish senator who had expressed ambivalence about Hagel's nomination.

After their meeting, Schumer came away satisfied, saying Hagel had cleared up questions related to past positions and had vowed to do "whatever it takes" to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

In written answers to senators before the hearing, Hagel echoed the same theme and made no reference to the skepticism he has sometimes expressed about a military confrontation with Iran.

"I agree with the president that the United States should take no options off the table in our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," he wrote to the committee.

"If confirmed, I will focus intently on ensuring that the US military is in fact prepared for any contingency."

A decorated Vietnam War veteran who was wounded in the conflict, the 66-year-old Hagel is known for a fiercely independent streak and caution about resorting to military action.

Inhofe and other Republicans say Hagel appears ready to gut military spending, citing his comment that the Pentagon's budget was "bloated."

In his responses to the committee, however, Hagel said he shared the outgoing defense secretary's view that looming budget cuts -- including automatic reductions due to kick in if Congress fails to break a stalemate -- would be disastrous and "hollow" out the armed forces.

Hagel's nomination has sparked an unprecedented advertising campaign by conservative activists, who began airing ads not long after Obama announced his choice for the Pentagon.

Though the ad campaign likely will fail to derail the nomination, the attacks serve as a warning to Hagel should he revert to some of his past positions.

Bankrolled by anonymous donors, the advertisements urge Democratic senators in several states to vote against Hagel's nomination, alleging he would make the United States "a weaker country."

Asked in the committee's questionnaire what qualified him to be defense secretary, Hagel cited his harrowing time in the jungles of Vietnam.

"I served a twelve-month tour which included the Tet Offensive in 1968... I understand what it is like to be a soldier in war.

"I also understand what happens when there is poor morale and discipline among the troops and a lack of clear objectives, intelligence and command and control from Washington."

He said his experience would help him to "ensure that we are cautious and certain when contemplating the use of force."

 

France, US clash with Iran over changing nuclear accord

Syria donors fall short of UN target without US aid

Same family names in Lebanon election

Turkey jails opposition daily journalists

Iraq’s ex-football stars from sports to politics

Western powers dismiss claim that Syria chemical attack was staged

US defense secretary says 'no decision' yet on Iran deal

Israel flash floods leave several young people missing

Highs and lows in Egypt’s Operation Sinai

416 donors to IS identified in France

Five migrants die trying to cross Mediterranean

Rights architects nominated for UK art prize

In Iraq's Anbar, election offers chance to settle scores

Philippines demands explanation after Kuwait expels ambassador

UK ‘seeking information’ over British-Iranian’s arrest

Macron says Trump may pull out of Iran nuclear deal

Turkey opposition journalists demand acquittal in terror trial

UN says Syria blocking humanitarian aid to Douma

OPCW experts visit second site of alleged Douma gas attack

Israeli policeman gets 9 months jail for killing Palestinian

US court rules for Arab Bank in precedent-setting case

Lebanese candidates pay hefty price for media coverage

Madani’s resignation sheds light on Iranian power play

Kuwait expels Filipino ambassador over treatment of workers

Syria aid donations for 2018 fall short of amount hoped

Growing anti-war sentiment in the US Congress could spell trouble for Trump

Liverpool’s Salah wins Israeli defence minister’s plaudits

Body of assassinated Palestinian driven through Malaysian capital

'Gap in perceptions' threatens wider Middle East war

UNESCO picks Morocco for project on prevention of violent extremism

Syrian regime retakes region near Damascus from rebels

Mogherini: Iran deal 'needs to be preserved'

Syria rebels prepare as Assad sets sights on next target

Iran's Rouhani questions 'right' to seek new nuclear deal

Iraq's Shiites split ahead of crucial vote

EU to Russia, Iran: Bring Syria to peace talks

Trump, Macron call for 'new' nuclear deal with Iran

Saudi Arabia claims killing of Yemen rebel leader

Syria's Idlib 'big new challenge' for international community

UNRWA chief says Palestinian aid $200 million short since Trump cuts

Bad memories resurface at Raqa’s mass grave

Turkey newspaper chief slams journalist terror trial

Setback for Yemen rebels after strike takes out leader

Saudi issues Islamic sukuk sale to finance deficit

Yarmuk, an epicentre of Syria's bloody conflict