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Hagel: All countries in the Middle East must help stabilize Syria

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel answers reporters' questions during a news conference at the Pentagon October 30, 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.

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Last Updated Oct 30, 2014 4:15 PM EDT

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that all nations in the Middle East must be involved in the process of stabilizing Syria, which is still in turmoil due to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or ISIL) and the ongoing civil war between President Bashar Assad's regime and a broad mix of rebel groups.

During a Pentagon briefing, a reporter asked Hagel to weigh in on whether the U.S. needs to pursue a more aggressive policy in Syria, especially one designed to put more pressure on Assad to step down. The New York Times reported that Hagel had sent a memo to National Security Adviser Susan Rice last week that was "sharply critical" of the administration's policy toward Syria, warning it could fall apart because of a failure to clarify its intentions toward Assad. CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin reports that the memo complained that the administration's strategy to defeat ISIS did not adequately deal with the problem of what to do about Assad.

The defense secretary was vague as he described a "complicated" situation with no "short-term easy answers."

"The realities of what ISIL is doing, control of vast areas of Syria and Iraq, are forcing...a coalition of over 60 countries, that come together to deal with this immediate threat. The future of Syria, which the nations of the Middle East have a significant investment in that stability, is going to require all elements, not only of our government but all of the countries in the Middle East and others working together to find a solution to bring peace in Syria," he said.

"Should we be more aggressive?" he added. "Well, we look at every option. That's why we meet so often on this issue and this is why we are building and continue to build an effective coalition in the Middle East to deal with these issues."

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey was asked about his access to President Obama, including meetings he had had with Mr. Obama in the presidential limo. "Well, first of all, the limousine is not that comfortable, I want you to know that. It's actually a pretty rough ride," he said.

And Dempsey denied a Politico story that reported he rarely has face-to-face meetings with the president, saying, "I think in the last three weeks I've probably spent more time with the secretary and the president than I have with my family."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.