Remarks by Secretary Hagel at the Defense One Summit (Excerpts)

November 14, 2013

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear


Q: You mentioned compromise. You mentioned Iran, so we'll pivot -- to use the word -- back to Iran. You know, there have been some writings lately that, while the negotiations on Iran are going on about just the nuclear issue, we could be in a new era, a new moment for a much -- a bigger shift, a bigger thinking, a bigger possible change for all the U.S. alliances in the region and the strategic balance in the region.

So a couple things in our remaining time, if you could, you know, give us your thoughts on Iran and on the state of the negotiations right now. Are you as concerned as the concern you hear or as confident as those who are confident? And for the larger picture, of -- is this a moment to -- to practice some of that engagement that you've been preaching?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think we are practicing that engagement, not because I say it. I think the...

Q: I mean, I'll say it another way. Are the common interests with Iran -- you talk a lot about finding common interests...


Q: ... with adversaries. And if there are, what are they? What -- where do you see that?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think that's -- I think that's where you've always got to start with anyone. Try to -- try to define some kind of a relationship based on common interests. We're not always going to agree with everybody, and we're going to have varying degrees and dynamics and dimensions of interests. I mean, that's just the way the world works.

But aren't we smarter if we can anchor some kind of a relationship based on a common interest? We can go to war, if that's what you want to do. I know a little bit about war. I've been to one. Not a happy time for anybody. There's no glory in war. There's only suffering. If you have to go to war, if that's the only recourse, you've got to do that.

But you better think this thing through before you want to jump off into a war and make these great pronouncements, because there are consequences to war. We just had 12 years of war. We're still in a war. Now, I'll let history figure all that out, but that's what's reflected in the poll numbers that we were just talking about. And I do think this Congress is probably more cautious about that.

I mean, look at just a few months ago, we went up to Congress regarding Syria. Boy, there was a pretty clear message on where the American people and Congress are on using military force in Syria. Now, it wasn't everybody, certainly an overwhelming dimension.

But back to your -- your question. I think in Iran, first, you've always got to be clear-eyed in these things. You've got to understand the realities. You understand in Iran's case they are clearly, have been a very dangerous, lethal state sponsor of terrorism. They cause tremendous trouble all over the Middle East for us, for a lot of nations. So you've got to also start with the clarity of understanding what you're dealing with.

Now, 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? Engagement is not surrender. It's not appeasement. And engagement is not negotiation.

I mean, I felt sorry for Secretary Kerry, because so many people have jumped into this, "Well, he didn't get anything and he didn't get a deal." Wait a minute. We've been literally at some kind of an informal, unofficial war with Iran since 1979. Now, does anybody really think that we're all going to get together in a P5-plus-one for a week and come out of that deal with some tidy little agreement? The Iranians have political issues; we have political issues; our partners have political issues. There are political issues in the Middle East. So this is -- it's going to take time, if we're going to be able to move somewhere, onto a higher -- a higher, hopefully, plane of possibility.

At the same time, same time, you always keep a ready, capable military that is second-to-none in the world. I don't think that we would have had any kind of opening to get to where we are with chemical weapons in Syria with the Russians, the United Nations Security Council, and the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) in there, and actually we're doing some things, actually we're starting to destroy chemical weapons in Syria, without the real, live threat of military force against Syria. And the president was very clear on that.

So this goes kind of back to your first questions, whether it's Iran or Syria. It's, how do you smartly use your military to influence outcomes? And it doesn't always come down to that alone, but it is part of the larger focus of purpose. What is the purpose of your power? And I think that's -- I think that's always much the essence of leadership and great nations' responsibility.