From NBC's Lauren Appelbaum
During a speech billed as focusing on U.S. foreign policy and the 2008 presidential campaign, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) avoided partisanship while outlining what the next president will he have to do. He called on the candidates to avoid "political tension" and focus on important issues instead of "glib 10-second answers and clever 30-second television ads."
"These two candidates must not allow this reality to control the process, thereby obfuscating the serious discussion of serious and specific issues so critical to the future of America and the world," Hagel, a rumored potential Obama VP, said at the left-leaning Bookings Institution in Washington, D.C. "Our candidates should also note that the world's leaders and citizens will also be carefully listening and observing this election. As the campaign unfolds, this global audience will begin to form expectations, shape judgments, and adjust their own national strategies and policies based on what they perceive to be America's direction under a new leader."
North Korea. Hagel offered credit to Bush for several issues, including the North Korea deal announced by the president today.
"Although more work remains to verifiably end North Korea's nuclear weapons program, this important achievement for the Bush administration, for America, and the world is the direct result of painstaking, multilateral diplomacy," Hagel said. "The President and his administration, and in particular Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill, deserve credit for their efforts and this accomplishment."
The Obama campaign put out a statement, which called this a "step forward," but cautioned that if the North Koreans do not continue to meet their obligations, the sanctions should be returned with possible new restrictions.
McCain, on his campaign bus in Ohio today also urged caution in easing sanctions in North Korea.
"There are still questions about the plutonium at Yongbyon," McCain said. "There are still questions about the Syrian facility. So we'll have to have a look to see how the overall agreement is and whether we should continue to lift sanctions, whether the Japanese and South Korean concerns have been addressed. And so my overall impression is we should be very cautious as I said a number of times in the past. ... It's an evolving situation."
Middle East. Calling the situation in the Middle East a "strategic cul-de-sac," Hagel said status quo is not an option and called for new policies, including increased engagement with Iran.
"Engagement is not appeasement," Hagel said. "Diplomacy is not appeasement. Great nations engage. Powerful nations must be the adults in world affairs. Anything less will result in disastrous, useless, preventable global conflict."
Hagel also expressed support for a diplomatic post in Tehran, called a "US Interest Section."
"Obviously we can't just fly over Tehran and drop an interest section," Hagel said when pressed later during the Q & A. "That doesn't mean diplomatic recognition. But that is a way to start moving."
Regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, Hagel emphasized there "will be no military victory" in Iraq and called for a withdrawal.
"The next president will need to pursue a responsible phased troop withdrawal from Iraq that will slowly, steadily but surely bring to an end the US occupation of Iraq," he said.
2008 Presidential Campaign. Hagel struck a chord of unity. "Let's dispense with the political relitigating of the mistakes of the past and move to the future," Hagel said. "We are where we are. And I believe America is in trouble. The next president's challenge will be to fix problems and make a better world. That's what defines leadership."
Hagel listed several responsibilities for the next president: partnering with Congress and forming a broad consensus to govern and lead the world; fixing the national debt by increasing America's economic strength through renewable energy research; regaining the world's trust in America's purpose and power with diplomatic, not military, efforts; lifting up people living in poverty around the world to prevent extremists and terrorists from taking control; and taking a leading role in bringing about positive change to combat global warming.
"Sens. McCain and Obama must conduct their campaigns with the recognition that their ability to lead is being shaped each day on the campaign trail," he said. "John McCain and Barack Obama are meeting at a time of historic confluence. They will be forever linked together in history. The next four months will define how they are remembered. If they rise to the magnitude of the moment, when America and the world need them most, and engage in a presidential campaign that strengthens our nation, enhances our image, inspires mankind, and makes us proud, then they will have been found worthy of the honor and responsibility bestowed upon them by the citizens of our great country."