Hagel speaks to the press. May 14, 2014, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Hagel speaks to the press. May 14, 2014, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Photo by AFP
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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday promised U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf that negotiations to contain Iran's nuclear program will not weaken their security.

In remarks opening a conference with his Gulf counterparts, Hagel said Washington is hopeful of progress this week in the Iran deal-drafting talks in Vienna.

"As negotiations progress, I want to assure you of two things," Hagel told the Gulf Cooperation Council. "First, these negotiations will under no circumstances trade away regional security for concessions on Iran's nuclear program."

The Pentagon chief continued, "Second, while our strong preference is for a diplomatic solution, the United States will remain postured and prepared to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon - and that Iran abides by the terms of any potential agreement."

Even if Tehran backs out of the nuclear negotiations, Hagel said, "the United States remains committed to our Gulf partners' security." He said there are about 35,000 U.S. troops in the Gulf region.

Hagel also addressed the ongoing civil war in Syria, describing it as a confluence of "violent extremism, fragile states and humanitarian emergencies."

"The United States remains committed to working with your governments toward a negotiated, political solution that ends the violence and leads to a representative and responsive government," he said.