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Chuck Hagel has one big hurdle left to clear before winning Senate confirmation to be the next Defense secretary — a barrage of questions on Iran, nuclear weapons and gay rights during his appearance Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The former Republican senator from Nebraska, who has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill for weeks, will have to convince his former GOP colleagues that he supports tough policies on Iran and a focus on prevention rather than containment. A longtime arms control advocate, Hagel will also be pressed to demonstrate his support for maintaining and modernizing the military’s extensive nuclear arsenal.
In 112 pages of written answers to questions posed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hagel provided a preview of how he will handle those and other contentious topics, such as gay rights, during the confirmation hearing.
Criticized for being soft on Tehran, Hagel maintained in his written response to the committee that Iran should “have a path to a more prosperous and productive relationship with the international community” if it lives up to its international obligations. But, if Iran falls short, Hagel signaled that he would be hawkish.
“The other choice is clear as well — if Iran continues to flout its international obligations, it should continue to face severe and growing consequences,” Hagel wrote. “While there is time and space for diplomacy, backed by pressure, the window is closing. Iran needs to demonstrate it is prepared to negotiate seriously.”
Hagel is likely to win confirmation. But so far, among the GOP, only Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, has committed to voting for Hagel’s confirmation.
A handful of other Republicans, including Senate Armed Services ranking member James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, have already said they will oppose his confirmation.
Thursday’s hearing could ultimately decide how many moderate GOP senators, including Susan Collins of Maine, vote on Hagel’s confirmation.
Collins, an Armed Services Committee member until the beginning of this Congress, met with Hagel recently for 90 minutes. She characterized the meeting as in-depth and productive but says she has unanswered questions on Hagel’s thoughts on Iran sanctions in particular.
“Even though in 90 minutes I covered a lot of ground on a lot of issues, I want to hear what he says” before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Collins said earlier this week. “I’m still not happy with his views on unilateral sanctions and why he didn’t sign on to certain initiatives,” she added.