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Hagel Addresses Middle East Issues in Nebraska Speech

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 20, 2013 – The Middle East holds some of the most serious U.S. security threats, but America can prevail in maintaining global stability if it uses its resources wisely and pursues coalition solutions, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said yesterday.

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sits with B.J. Reed, senior vice chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Omaha, during a post-speech question-and-answer session with students in Omaha, Neb., June 19, 2013. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

During a speech in Omaha, Neb., at his alma mater, the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Hagel said the Middle East is “probably as complicated as any part of the world.” He added, “Our ability to shape that part of the world has severe limitations. We can't do it alone.”

Hagel said Iran and Syria represent, in part, the three-way war raging in the region: civil war, sectarian war and proxy war. U.S. response in Syria must be carefully calibrated to avoid making a bad situation worse, he added.

“The conflict there is complex, unpredictable and very combustible,” he said. Fighting in Syria, where rebel forces are pitted against Bashar Assad’s regime, has now killed some 90,000 people.

“It is developed along dangerous sectarian lines, exposing deep historical, religious, and ethnic differences and complications,” Hagel said. “In this fluid and dynamic situation there are consequences for U.S. policy decisions, both for action and inaction.”

Hagel said Iran, which last week voted in Hassan Rowhani as president-elect, is another complex foreign policy challenge.

“The United States has made clear that if Iran's new president is interested in mending Iran's relations with the rest of the world, as he indicated in his campaign, there is an opportunity to do that,” Hagel said. But, he added, to do so, Iran must meet its international


“The United States remains committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and all options remain on the table to achieve this outcome,” he said.

Hagel said another key global security factor is economic volatility, as European economies battle deficits and rising powers elsewhere struggle with new responsibilities. Add technology to the mix, he noted, and, “never before have we seen anything like this.”

The current security shifts are interconnected, the secretary said.

“We live in a world where our homeland is vulnerable to cyber attackers who can strike from anywhere in the world, where states like North Korea seek to develop missiles capable of hitting American soil, and where extremist groups like Hezbollah possess a more deadly arsenal of weapons than many nations,” he said.

The U.S. approach to 21st-century security is to strengthen alliances, build new partnerships, and forge coalitions of common interests that help resolve problems and prevent conflict, Hagel said. The Middle East, while complicated, lends itself to that approach, he added.

“What we must do, I think, with every instrument of power we have and alliance we have … is to try to get some process working that at least stops the violence and the bloodshed and the war, and then start working our way through that to managing it to some higher ground,” Hagel said.

From Israel and Egypt to Iran and Syria, the Middle East is home to turmoil that “isn't going to get fixed in a year, or under one president, or any American policy,” Hagel said. “This is going to get eventually resolved through a number of channels, working with allies, working with interests.”

Meanwhile, the secretary added, the United States must keep working at it. “It's frustrating. It's difficult, and I know that. … We've got to balance this in a way that's realistic and doable,” he said.


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Chuck Hagel

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