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(INDIANAPOLIS) – Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is taking a cautious approach to fraying relations with Saudi Arabia.

Hagel says there’s still a lot we don’t know about the death of Saudi exile Jamal Khashoggi, and says we may never know. He notes the Saudis have become increasingly aggressive on the world stage, from a bloody civil war in Yemen to a series of indirect challenges to Iran.

But Hagel says the U.S shouldn’t automatically support or oppose Saudi Arabia, which has been a longtime strategic partner to the U.S. He says growing bipartisan concern over the Saudis’ actions in Yemen shows a recognition of the need to assess whether Saudi actions are in America’s national interest.

And Hagel points out the Saudi muscle-flexing has come at the same time as a shift in the center of power in the Saudi government. During Hagel’s two years as President Obama’s defense secretary, King Abdullah ruled the kingdom. Hagel left the Pentagon a month after King Salman ascended the throne upon Abdullah’s death. Just three years later, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is in effect in control of all aspects of the government.

The Republican ex-senator from Nebraska was in Indy to endorse Democrat Senator Joe Donnelly’s reelection bid. He says Donnelly has demonstrated integricty and bipartisanship in his six years in office.

Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) (Photo:Eric Berman/WIBC)