Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Defense One Summit, Nov. 14, 2013.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Defense One Summit, Nov. 14, 2013. DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Hagel Defends Kerry’s Engagement with Iran

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says “engagement” with Iran isn’t “negotiation” and defends the Secretary of State for reaching out. By Stephanie Gaskell

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said “engagement doesn’t mean negotiation” when it comes to talking to Iran -- and defended Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts.

Hagel, speaking at the Defense One Summit in Washington, said it’s wise to try to find common ground with adversaries. “That’s where you’ve always got to start with anyone. Try to define some kind of a relationship based on common interests. We can go to war if you want to. I’ve been to war -- not a happy time for everybody. We’re not always going to agree with everybody and we’re going to have varying degrees and dynamics and dimensions of interests.”

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“You’ve got to be clear-eyed in these things,” Hagel added, reminding the audience that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism.

Kerry held a classified briefing with the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday to brief them on the recent P-5+1 talks in Geneva -- which did not yield a deal -- to try to convince them not to levy new sanctions on Iran. But Republicans left the meeting saying they felt the Obama administration was leading the country towards nuclear war by talking to the Iranians.

Hagel said he supports Kerry’s efforts to open a dialogue with Iran. Engagement is not surrender, it’s not appeasement, engagement is not negotiation. ” he said. “Now I felt sorry for Secretary Kerry because so many people have jumped into this -- ‘Well, he didn’t get anything, he didn’t get a deal.’ ”

“It’s going to take time,” Hagel said.