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Chairman LEVIN. Thank you, Senator Kane.
Senator VITTER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Senator, for being here, and thank you very much for
your military service.
My single biggest concern, Senator, about the nomination is the
dramatic flip-flops between your past statements and record and
what you're saying as the nominee. And they're about key core
issues, and we've discussed some of those today. So I wanted to
focus on that, and I apologize if I go over some of the things that
have come up before. I couldn't be here for most of the hearing.
In 2006 when Israel was responding to attacks by Hezbollah
from Lebanon, you called that response a ""sickening slaughter'' and
you accused Israel of ""the systematic destruction of an American
friend, the country and people of Lebanon.'' What do you say about
those quotes today?
Senator HAGEL. Well, first, I said them. I've been asked about
them. I have said I regret saying that. It was in the larger context
of a speech I made about what was going on, the 30-some days of
war going on. I also included in that speech the responsibility of
Hezbollah, who started the war. So it wasn't exactly the way you
just noted it. The language is exact, what you just said, but it was
a larger context.
Yes, I regret that language. But I think the bigger point is, Senator--
and I have noted this all morning--my unequivocal support
of Israel over the years. There's been no flip-flop on that. How I've
voted, I've never voted against anything but Israel's interests in
every vote I've
cast in the United States Senate. I've said it in my book. They're
a special, historic ally. We will always support them and defend
them. I've said it in my speeches.
There's no flip-flop on my support for Israel.
Senator VITTER. Is there a flip-flop on your calling their response
to Hezbollah ""the systematic destruction of an American friend, the
country and people of Lebanon''? Do you stand by that today?
Senator HAGEL. I just said I said that, and I said that I regretted
saying that. But that's not----
Senator VITTER. Do you stand by those words, or is that a flipflop?
Senator HAGEL. No. if I had a chance to edit those words out, I
Senator VITTER. That's what I'm talking about in terms of flipflop.
Senator HAGEL. Well, I suppose if I had a chance to edit a lot
of things in my life, Senator, I'd probably be fairly busy.
Senator VITTER. Let me move on because I have a number of
these concerns. In 1998 in a Senate hearing, you said that Secretary
of State Madeleine Albright had ""tilted way too far toward
Israel in the Middle East peace process.'' Do you still think that of
that peace process in 1998?
Senator HAGEL. I don't recall the event. I don't recall the words.
I don't know where it comes from. I don't know the context. You
know, again, Senator, I go back for years and years and years on
different things I've said, but I don't recall that or what the context
was, so I don't know.
Secretary Albright has endorsed me, by the way, to be the next
Secretary of Defense. I worked very closely with Secretary Albright,
as I did with President Clinton and his administration, in support
Senator VITTER. In general, at that time under the Clinton administration,
do you think that they were going ""way too far toward
Israel in the Middle East peace process″?
Senator HAGEL. No, I don't, because I was very supportive of
what the President did at the end of his term in December-January,
December 2000, January of 2001. As a matter of fact, I recount
that episode in my book, when I was in Israel.
Senator VITTER. Just to clarify, that's the sort of flip-flop I'm
talking about, because that's what you said then and you're changing
your mind now.
Senator HAGEL. Senator, that's not a flip-flop. I don't recall everything
I've said in the last 20 years or 25 years. if I could go back
and change some of it, I would. But that still doesn't discount the
support that I've always given Israel and continue to give Israel.
Senator VITTER. Let me go to a third thing, is actually what you
said today, talking about Iran as a ""legitimate elected government.''
Do you think the election that had to do with this Iranian government
coming to power was free and fair and legitimate?
Senator HAGEL. I noted that the term ""legitimate'' was not the
term I should have used. I should have used ""recognized.'' That's
the more appropriate term. And I was referring to the fact that it's
a nation that is a member of the United Nations, it has embassies
from all our allies.
Senator VITTER. What about the----
Senator HAGEL. It's a recognized nation.
Senator VITTER. What about the word ""elected,'' because you said
""legitimate elected government''?
Senator HAGEL. Well, there was an election in Iran.
Senator VITTER. So my question specifically was, you apparently
think that was a free and fair and legitimate election?
Senator HAGEL. That's not what I said.
Senator VITTER. That's why I'm asking what you meant, because
you said ""legitimate elected government.''
Senator HAGEL. I just explained I should have said ""recognized''
instead of ""legitimate,'' which I did earlier today. There was an
election. There will be another presidential election in June of this
year for President of Iran. Whether it's free and fair, I don't know.
Senator VITTER. Do you expect it to be free and fair and legitimate?
Senator HAGEL. I don't know.
Senator VITTER. Okay. You have no expectations one way or the
other about that?
Senator HAGEL. Well, I do know that Iran is not exactly a model
democracy and it has not been. So I don't have any expectations
for a free, fair election.
Senator VITTER. Okay. In 2008 you wrote that a nuclear Iran
might be tolerable because ""sovereign nation states possessing nuclear
weapons capability, as opposed to stateless terrorist groups,
will often respond with some degree of responsible, or at least sane,
behavior.'' Is that still your hope or expectation about this government
Senator HAGEL. Again, I'm not sure where the reference came
from or the context. But what I obviously was referring to were different
options that people will look at in regard to Iran getting nuclear
weapons. I've always said that Iran must not get weapons of
mass destruction. I've always said it's a sponsor of terrorists, of terrorism,
and I've always said the military option should remain on
the table to assure that Iran does not get nuclear weapons.
Senator VITTER. Well, again, this quote, you suggest that Iran
would maybe or hopefully respond in a ""responsible, or at least
sane,'' way. Those were the words. Is that still your expectation or
Senator HAGEL. Well, I always have hope that people respond in
a sane way. But that doesn't at all change the facts that it is a
dangerous, dangerous country that's a threat to the United States,
Israel, and the entire world.
Senator VITTER. Okay. After your nomination, the Iranian government
press noted with satisfaction that the ""anti-Israel''
Hagel--obviously, that's not your quote; that's theirs--is known for
""his criticism of Washington's anti-Iran policies,'' and that he ""has
consistently opposed any plan to launch a military strike against
Iran.'' Why do you think they have that impression?
Senator HAGEL. Well, first of all, it's not an accurate quote. I've
never opposed military action against Iran.
Senator VITTER. Let me just clarify. It's an accurate quote of the
Iranian government press. Why do you think they have that impression?
Senator HAGEL. It's not an accurate statement about my position.
Senator VITTER. Right. But why do you think they have that impression?
Senator HAGEL. As I said in answer to that question earlier, I
have enough difficulty understanding American politics, Senator. I
surely don't understand Iranian politics.
Senator VITTER. Thank you.
Senator HAGEL. But if I might add, I also said that there have
been some rather significant Israeli government leaders recently
that have said some pretty nice things about me, current Israeli
Senator VITTER. Thank you.
Senator HAGEL. Thank you.
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