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Hagel’s group sees Iran as a future ally

Says Israel must give olive branch

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Washington think tank overseen by President Obama's defense secretary-designate predicts that Iran one day will be a "natural partner" for the United States and could possess nuclear weapons.

It also puts the onus on Israel to make peace with Palestinians, many of whom are governed by Hamas, an Iran-backed terrorist group bent on the destruction of the Jewish state.

The views are contained in a major policy paper by the Atlantic Council, for which former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska serves as chairman. The paper shows the foreign policy culture from which Mr. Hagel emerges to face Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearings.

The paper also may explain the underpinnings for Mr. Hagel's dovish views on Iran for which he will receive close scrutiny by fellow Republicans.

Mr. Obama on Monday presented Mr. Hagel as the nominee to replace Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta. Mr. Hagel has taken a far less hawkish stance than Mr. Panetta, who has vowed that Tehran will not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and talks of a military option to stop the regime.

Iran's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday approved Mr. Hagel's nomination, saying it hopes his appointment as Pentagon chief would improve relations between the U.S. and the Islamic republic.

Mr. Hagel upbraided President George W. Bush for not offering unconditional talks with Iran's hard-line Islamic leaders. He does not emphasize a military option to counter Iran's nuclear program, and he has suggested that Iran one day will own atomic weapons.

In December, the Atlantic Council issued the major position paper — part advice to Mr. Obama in his second term, part vision for the world in the next 17 years.

Mr. Hagel did not write "Envisioning 2030: U.S. Strategy for a Post-Western World," but it corresponds with his and the Atlantic Council's efforts to seek global cooperation, not confrontation.

The paper predicts that Iranian hard-liners will be unable to insulate the population from democratic movements in Egypt, Tunisia and other neighboring states.

"It is difficult to envision an already globalized Iranian public not being inspired by regional examples of popular democratic governance," the Atlantic Council says. "For U.S. strategy, Iran should be viewed as a potential natural partner in the region. … A post-mullah dominated government shedding Shia [Muslim] ideology could easily return to being a net contributor to stability by 2030."

Iran brutally put down protesters who contested the fairness of the 2009 election that kept in power President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who also has called for the destruction of Israel.

Arguing for a smaller U.S. nuclear arsenal, the Atlantic Council paper says that Iran one day may achieve nuclear weapon status.

"To deter and if necessary to defeat micronuclear powers such as North Korea, or Iran if it does cross the nuclear threshold, numbers substantially lower than those of the current U.S. nuclear arsenal may be possible," the paper says.

On a pessimistic note, it says: "Iran's nuclear ambitions are proving to be a difficult test for the already fraying nuclear non-proliferation regime."

Mr. Hagel has urged Israel to negotiate with Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group that governs the Gaza Strip and has launched rockets into Israel as recently as November before Egypt brokered a cease-fire. He was one of 12 senators who declined to sign a letter to the European Union asking it to designate as terrorists the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, another Israeli foe funded and armed by Iran.

The Atlantic Council paper puts pressure on Israel to make peace. A word search of the document did not produce a reference to Hamas.

"The U.S. will need to persuade its Israeli ally to recognize that the changing strategic calculus in the region will require Tel Aviv to make peace with its Arab neighbors to have a secure future as a democratic, Jewish state," the document states. "However, the United States would be wise to also develop a contingency strategy that takes into account a possible scenario where the Israel-Palestinian issue remains unresolved to 2030 and the impact of such a reality on the U.S. role in the region."

The report was drafted principally by analyst Robert A. Manning, who specializes in arms control. He has served as a State Department adviser and most recently worked in government as a senior strategist in the director of national intelligence's National Counterproliferation Center.

The Atlantic Council on Monday celebrated Mr. Hagel's nomination by praising him on its website.

"His approach to addressing crucial global challenges is to forge bipartisan support at home and deepen engagement with allies and friends abroad — the essence of the Atlantic Council mission. We praise President Obama for his wisdom in employing Senator Hagel's unique experience and talents," said Frederick Kempe, the institution's chief executive officer.

Mr. Hagel's record of public statements, especially in his last two years as a senator in 2007 and 2008 when he aligned himself with Barack Obama, show some key positions have not passed the test of history:

• He predicted the Iraq troop surge of 2007 would be a historical blunder — and it was not.

• He urged unconditional talks with Tehran. Mr. Obama, in his first few months as president, reached out to the mullahs in a diplomatic message and video — but was rebuffed.

• He opposed more sanctions on Iran. Mr. Obama has endorsed sanctions, and the Senate voted 94-0 to impose sanctions in November.

• He blamed Mr. Bush for America's low popularity in Muslim-dominated countries. The Pew Research Center has found in polling that the U.S. ranks lower today in favorability than in 2009, when Mr. Obama took office.

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