Hagel: Iran Has 'Elected, Legitimate' Government

January 31, 2013

Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel stated Iran has an "elected, legitimate government" and pointed out its membership in the United Nations, responding to a question Wednesday by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.) about why he would consider negotiations with Iran in light of its terrorist connections:

HAGEL: Well, let's start with a specific question on a vote, regarding designating the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. You recall, because you were there, there were 22 senators who voted against that. The effort against it -- the main point made on the floor of the Senate came from Senator Jim Webb. And his point was we have never, ever designated a part of a legitimate government, a state -- and when I say "legitimate," that doesn't mean we agree with Iran, but it is a member of the United Nations. Almost all of our allies have embassies in Iran. So that's why I note -- an elected, legitimate government, whether we agree or not. But we have never made any part of a legitimate, independent government, designated them or made part -- made them part of a terrorist organization. We've just -- we've never done that.

The 2009 election of Mahmound Ahmadinejad as Iran's president was widely suspected to be rigged. The streets were filled with furious protestors who were eventually forced to accept the idea that, according to Vanity Fair, "the Iranian authorities managed to process all 39.2 million paper ballots between the close of polls at 10 p.m. local time and the next morning, when Iran’s Interior Ministry officially proclaimed Ahmadinejad the winner with 63 percent of the vote."

Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) denounced it as "clearly a corrupt election," and the Washington Post published an article pointing out vast evidence of fraud that swayed the results toward Ahmadinejad.

This is not the first time Hagel has referred to Iran's government as legitimate. In his 2008 book, Hagel said, "America's refusal to recognize Iran's status as a legitimate power does not decrease Iran's influence, but rather increases it."

Update: Hagel later walked back the comment, when pressed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) on the issue.

"What I meant to say--should have said--it's recognizable," Hagel said. "It's been recognized, is recognized at the United Nations. Most of our allies have embassies there. That's what I should have said. And thank you."