Report: Hagel meeting with Pentagon officials to explain Iran stance

Former Sen. Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: Latest on historic Korea summit | Trump says 'many people' interested in VA job | Pompeo thinks Trump likely to leave Iran deal Should Mike Pompeo be confirmed? Intel chief: Federal debt poses 'dire threat' to national security MORE (R-Neb.), who was nominated to be the next Defense secretary, is meeting with Pentagon officials this week to discuss his views on Iran policy, according to a report from The Associated Press.

Defense officials say that Hagel intends to reassure senior staff that he supports tough sanctions to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and believes the U.S. should keep all options on the table, including the threat of military action.

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Hagel has also been given office space within the Pentagon so that he and his aides can begin preparing for what is likely to be a tough confirmation battle, according to the AP.

The report also says Hagel has already had a private dinner this week with outgoing Secretary Leon Panetta and has met with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

The report comes as Hagel, who was nominated for the top Pentagon post on Monday, faces strong opposition from many GOP lawmakers who charge that their former colleague would be soft on Iran and a poor defender of Israel.

Pro-Israel groups and Republican senators have seized on Hagel’s statements that a “Jewish lobby” intimidates lawmakers and past calls for diplomacy with Hamas and Iran.

Sens. John CornynJohn CornynPressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA This week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure MORE (R-Texas), David VitterDavid Bruce VitterPlanned Parenthood targets judicial nominee over abortion comments Trump nominates wife of ex-Louisiana senator to be federal judge Where is due process in all the sexual harassment allegations? MORE (R-La.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenators near deal on sexual harassment policy change Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Five Republican run-offs to watch in Texas MORE (R-Texas) have already said they will vote against Hagel, while other lawmakers have expressed strong concerns about his views.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Graham: Trump will 'end North Korea’s threat to the American homeland' in his first term Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers weigh in after Texas school shooting MORE (R-S.C.) on Sunday called Hagel’s selection an “in-your-face” nomination and said he could expect to face tough questioning during his confirmation hearing.

But Hagel’s stance on Middle East policy is also inviting caution from across the aisle. On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinKim Jong Un surprises with savvy power plays Overnight Energy: EPA moves to roll back chemical plant safety rule | NASA chief says humans contribute to climate change | Pruitt gets outside lawyer House lawmakers to unveil water resources bill on Friday MORE (Md.) said his primary concern was on Hagel’s “position in regards to Iran."

"He has not been supportive of action taken by the United States to impose sanctions, he believes that we should move only with the international community, and I believe it's important for the United States to lead in the effort to isolate Iran,” said Cardin. 

As a senator, Hagel opposed implementing unilateral economic sanctions on Iran, but says he supports the Obama administration’s sanctions in concert with the European Union and other allies.

The White House, though, is confident Hagel will be confirmed and is touting the nominee’s service in Vietnam. If confirmed, Hagel would be the first former enlisted service member to run the Pentagon.