- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2013

Put down the arms. The Middle East peace process demands talk, diplomacy and politics, not military involvement, said U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

“The old order” in the region is disappearing, and the new one — while still largely an “unknown” — will no doubt require a more delicate approach, he said, to a Washington Institute for Near East Policy crowd, Agence France-Presse reported. That goes for talks with Iran over nuclear development and with Syria over long-running civil war and accusations of chemical weapon use, he said.

The undertone of Mr. Hagel’s comments was this: The United States would recognize its “limitations” in future work to foster peace in the Mideast, AFP said.

“A common thread woven in to the Middle East fabric is that the most enduring and effective solutions to the challenges facing the region are political, not military,” Mr. Hagel said, AFP reported. “America’s role … is to continue to help influence and shape the course of events — using diplomatic, economic, humanitarian, intelligence and security tools in coordination with our allies.”

It’s both sign and support of President Obama’s cautious approach in Syria. The president had said weeks ago that Syria’s use of chemical warfare would be the “red line” to deeper American involvement in the conflict, but the White House has rushed to soften that tone in recent days — even as evidence of sarin gas mounts.

Mr. Hagel did not explicitly rule out a U.S. military action in Iran or Syria, UPI reported. But he stressed that the U.S. “must adjust accordingly” to the emerging new order in the Mideast.