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What Chuck Hagel Thinks About Iran

And why hawks don't like him. He favors an opening to the Islamic Republic, and has opposed sanctions.

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He supports re-opening diplomatic relations with Iran and even sending commercial flights there.

Now we’ve got a choice here, we can continue to push Iran out and back, and say to Iran, We will give you the privilege of sitting down and talking with us based on our preconditions. And as that goes on, Iran continues most likely to develop nuclear capabilities, it continues to enhance its position with a significant population in the Middle East, which is a direct threat against Israel, a direct threat against the interests of the United States, a threat against Iraq...

If we continue to push countries back away and out, and we don’t engage, then it is very predictable what the outcome is going to be...

You cannot take any of these challenges and deal with them in capsules, and in compartments. Iran has everything to do with the outcome in Iraq, the outcome of the Israeli Palestinian issue, of the Middle East itself, the stability of those Persian gulf countries, of oil...

[W]hen we’re talking about Iran, I believe that is going to require some kind of security gift. I believe it's going to require some easy-to-do breakthroughs like an interest section, commercial exchange of flights. We can do those kinds of things.

In the same speech from a dinner at the Grand Hyatt in New York in 2008, Hagel said that Iran has its "tentacles wrapped around every problem in the Middle East. They’re anti-Israel, anti-United States. Those are realities. Those are facts."

War with Iran is "not inevitable."

In a Washington Post op-ed from earlier this year, Hagel and three co-authors warned against military action in Iran in the near future.

If the United States attacks, it could set back for several years Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon. If the objective were large-scale damage to Iran’s military and weapons capability, the United States could achieve substantial success. But without large numbers of troops on the ground, we doubt that U.S. military attacks from the air — even if supplemented by other means such as drones, covert operations and cyberattacks — could eliminate Iran’s capability to build a nuclear weapon, unseat the regime or force it to capitulate to U.S. demands.

He "thinks Obama's done a good job overall."

In an interview with al-Monitor, Hagel praised Obama's foreign policy positions in Iran and the rest of the Middle East:

There are a lot of things I don’t agree with him on; he knows it. I have the honor and privilege of seeing those guys a lot. [Vice President] Joe [Biden] is a good friend. Obama and I got to know each other pretty well in the Senate even though he wasn’t there very long. As you know, he asked Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) and me to go to the Middle East with him so we spent a lot time [together]… I have the highest regard for him in every way. I think he’s one of the finest, most decent individuals I’ve ever known and one of the smartest… I try to remind my Republican friends when they hammer him that this is a guy who inherited the biggest agenda of problems in this country ever inherited by a president since Franklin Roosevelt and maybe worse. Roosevelt didn’t inherit two wars that were messes with a global financial crisis. Everywhere you look, this guy had problems to try to dig his way out of it. And I think he deserves some credit.

In an interview with Foreign Policy in May, he made a similar point, saying "I think Obama is handling this exactly the right way."

Hagel's words of praise for Obama's positions toward Iran are held up by his defenders as an indication that he is not to Obama's left on foreign policy, as the Washington Post editorial board has alleged.

He's not a huge fan of sanctions.

Hagel was blamed for blocking an Iran sanctions bill in 2008 and has voted against other sanctions bills. The Huffington Post reported that "according to a congressional aide who spoke on background to the Huffington Post, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel is solely responsible for the hold on the bill."

"The independent-minded Republican's foreign policy streak, however, has also appeared to endear him to Sen. Obama. For example, Hagel accompanied the Illinois Democrat during his most recent trip to Iraq," The Huffington Post wrote.

But Hagel has supported other actions to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities; Open Zion notes a few examples.

He thinks Israel might attack Iran without U.S. authorization.

Again from al-Monitor:

You asked if I think it’s possible the Israelis will strike without U.S. authorization. Yes I do think it’s possible. I say possible, I didn’t say probable, I didn’t say likely…Let’s take a possible scenario… If an Israeli ambassador is assassinated, high profile somewhere, and there’s clear evidence that this was ordered by the Iranians … that’s just one scenario. What happens if an Israeli airliner is shot down? There are combustible dynamics in play that are totally out of anyone’s control right now.

Rosie Gray is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. Gray reports on politics and foreign policy.

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