WASHINGTON - Former US Senator Chuck Hagel says as defence secretary he will “focus intently on ensuring the US military” is prepared to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities if needed.“I agree with the president that the United States should take no options off the table in our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Hagel said in written answers to policy questions posed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will hold a hearing today on President Barack Obama’s nomination of the former senator to head the Pentagon.“While there is time and space for diplomacy, backed by pressure, the window is closing,” Hagel said in the 112-page document carried by American news media. “Iran needs to demonstrate it is prepared to negotiate seriously.”Hagel’s readiness to take on Iran is among questions he may face tomorrow from fellow Republicans, who have said that they are troubled by his past policy comments - including opposition to unilateral economic sanctions against Iran and to the troop surge during the Iraq war and remarks he once made about the influence of the “Jewish lobby” in Washington.Most of the written answers Hagel provided to the committee reflect current White House and Pentagon policy on Iraq, Afghanistan, budget cuts, personnel issues, weapons programmes and the industrial base. When pressed on changes he might make if he is confirmed to succeed the departing defence secretary, Leon Panetta, Hagel repeatedly responded that he would have to weigh such matters once in office.Hagel has faced a barrage of criticism that he is not sufficiently pro-Israel and tough on Iran. In his responses, Hagel adopted a hardline on Iran, echoing Obama's contention that the United States would consider all options, including military action, to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon."If confirmed, I will focus intently on ensuring that US military is in fact prepared for any contingency," Hagel said in response to committee questions.The United States and other Western nations have demanded that Iran stopped its uranium-enrichment programme, which they perceive as a precursor to production of nuclear warhead-grade material. Iran insists that its programme is for peaceful purposes.The most recent round of negotiations ended in a stalemate last June."If Iran continues to flout its international obligations, it should continue to face severe and growing consequences," Hagel said."In the past, Hagel has questioned the efficacy of unilateral sanctions on Iran, arguing that penalties in conjunction with international partners made more sense. But his latest views on Iran are certain to please Israel and the Jewish state's supporters in Congress, paving the way for his confirmation as defence secretary.Meanwhile, an American academic, who usually takes an anti-Pakistan stance, said that Pakistan may pose the most difficult choices for Hagel as defence secretary,"Since 9/11 the United States has been at war in Afghanistan. After vanquishing Al-Qaeda from their mountainous redoubts, America and its NATO allies identified the Taliban as the foe to defeat", wrote Christine Fair, assistant professor at Georgetown University's Center for Peace and Security Studies, in an opinion piece published in The New York Times Wednesday.Prof Fair wrote, "Regardless of the wisdom of that decision, when the United States declared war against the Taliban, it also unwittingly declared a proxy war against Pakistan. The Taliban have been and remain Pakistan’s best instrument to ensure that India will be kept out of Afghanistan's Pasthun-dominated southern and eastern provinces. "If that were not enough, Pakistan continues to use other Islamist terrorists, like Jamaatud Dawa and Lashkar-e-Taiba, as tools of foreign policy in India as well as in Afghanistan."To ensure that the international community will consider Pakistan too dangerous to fail, it has vigorously worked to acquire a tactical nuclear weapon that are vulnerable to theft and exacerbate the possibility of escalation in the event of an Indo-Pakistan crisis."Because the United States has been so focused on the war effort in Afghanistan, Washington has frequently turned blind eyes to the dangerous actions of its not-so-allied ally, Pakistan."Since 2002 Pakistan has received more than $25 billion, of which $17 billion was defence assistance to reward its ostensible cooperation in the war on terror. Yet, Pakistan continued to support the Taliban and associated terrorist groups, like the Haqqani network, who are responsible for the deaths of US personnel and their allies, as well as other groups that Washington has proscribed as foreign terrorist organisations.With the drawdown in Afghanistan, Washington has an opportunity to attenuate its tendency to endure Pakistani malfeasance with equanimity."How would Senator Hagel help reorient US policy toward Pakistan to persuade it to abandon its long-standing policy tool of using militants under its ever-expanding nuclear umbrella? Would he persist in trying to change Pakistani behaviour with positive inducements? Or would he conclude that the only way to achieve US security objectives in the region would be an attempt to contain the terrorists and nuclear proliferation threats that Pakistan insists upon posing."Long after the Afghan war winds down to its inevitable miserable conclusion, Pakistan will remain the single most important security threat in South Asia and beyond. How would he see beyond the imperatives of 2014 and aggressively work to address the recalcitrant Pakistan problem?"