Report: Hagel meeting with Pentagon officials to explain Iran stance

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (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 Cornyn (R-Texas), David Vitter (R-La.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have already said they will vote against Hagel, while other lawmakers have expressed strong concerns about his views.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (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 Cardin (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.