Obama's Defence Secy nominee adopts hard line on Iran

Chuck Hagel
Observing that Iranian nuclear programme poses a significant threat to the US and its allies, US Defence Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel has said the "window is closing" on Tehran of diplomacy if it continues to flout world demands to end pursuit of atomic weapons.

In a series of answers submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee ahead of his confirmation hearing tomorrow, 66-year-old Hagel supported the policy of President Barack Obama that no option should be out of the table when it comes to addressing the threat posed by Iran.

"While there is time and space for diplomacy, backed by pressure, the window is closing. Iran needs to demonstrate it is prepared to negotiate seriously," said Hagel, who has been nominated by President Barack Obama as next Defence Secretary.

If confirmed by the Senate, he would replace Leon Panetta as the Defence Secretary.

Hagel's answers to the Senate committee run into 112-page questionnaire, wherein India does not find any mention.

"Iran poses a significant threat to the United States, our allies and partners, and our interests in the region and globally. Iran continues to pursue an illicit nuclear programme that threatens to provoke a regional arms race and undermine the global non-proliferation regime," he said and warned that if Iran continues to flout its world obligations, it should continue to face severe and growing consequences.

"Iran is also one of the main state-sponsors of terrorism and could spark conflict, including against US personnel and interests," said Hagel, who dopted a hard line on 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. If confirmed, I will focus intently on ensuring that US military is in fact prepared for any contingency," Hagel said.

Obama, he said, has put in place and pursued effectively – with support from the US Congress – a strong, multi-vector strategy to deal with the threats that Iran poses to the United States, particularly its nuclear pursuits.

This strategy has included a strong diplomatic effort to test Iranian intentions, lay the ground work for an international coalition that holds Tehran accountable for its transgressions, and isolate Iran in the region and globally.

"This strategy has credibly, and smartly in my opinion, made clear that all options are on the table. I believe that this strategy has made it clear to Iran that the United States will do what it must to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and I will continue to implement this policy if confirmed," he said.

"I do believe that if Iran lives up to international obligations, it should have a path to a more prosperous and productive relationship with the international community and eventual rejoining of the community of nations," he added.

Hagel also said the threat posed by al-Qaeda to the US has diminished over the past four years, but expressed concern over the presence of the remaining leadership of the terrorist outfit in Pakistan and in Arabian Peninsula.

"I assess that the threat posed by al-Qaeda to the US homeland has been significantly diminished over the past four years. At the same time, al-Qaeda's remaining leadership in Pakistan and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains of serious concern," Hagel said in the written set of answers.

Additionally, the Arab Spring has created new opportunities for al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria and North Africa, Hagel said.

"Our sustained military, intelligence, and diplomatic efforts over the last ten years have brought us closer to the strategic defeat of core al-Qaeda. There can be no doubt, however, that al-Qaeda and associated forces remain potent, dangerous, and adaptable foes – as evidenced by its despicable actions in Benghazi and more recently in Algeria," he said.

If confirmed, Hagel said he will continue to focus on defeating al-Qaeda and its associated forces around the world.

Hagel said he is very concerned about the threat that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) poses to the US.

"AQAP has attempted at least three attacks on the United States since December 2009, and in my view fully intends to attack again... AQAP is also attempting to recruit and radicalise would-be terrorists in the West through its extensive media outreach," he said.

Noting that the US shares the French goal of denying al-Qaeda in the lands of the Islamic Maghreb and other terrorists a safe haven in the region, Hagel said he agrees with the Administration's decision to support the French mission without deploying US combat forces on the ground.

He said the US at present is confronted with a myriad of challenges stemming from an ever more complex global environment.

"The next Secretary of Defense will be confronted with a myriad of challenges stemming from an ever more complex global environment. Some of the challenges we know today, but many will continue to unfold as we conclude over ten years at war and look to the future of our military posture," Hagel said.

He said in an ever changing world with both state and non-state actors developing non-traditional tools of war, the United States will be challenged by technological advancements that bring the battlefield to both space and cyberspace.

Hagel said that as the United States begins to rebalance to the Asia Pacific region, his Department will be faced by new challenges in this vital part of the world.

"Piracy, maritime security, disaster relief efforts and of course, continued vigilance to terrorism and proliferation of nuclear weapons name just a few known challenges," he said.

Hagel said the United States must be prepared for any contingency it may face in the coming years all while doing so in the confines of this austere budget environment.

"We will define our post-2014 presence in Afghanistan and create a new relationship and partnership with Afghanistan. To counter terrorism, we will look into how we use our special operations forces and the development of new technologies and surveillance techniques," he said.

Hagel also committed US support for missile defense systems in Israel.

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