NEW YORK – While the US has “implemented unprecedented sanctions and pressure on Iran, we may very well have to use military force to back up our policy,” Leon Panetta said on Thursday night.

The former US defense secretary and CIA director made the remarks while addressing around 600 people at the Anti-Defamation League’s 100th annual meeting.

Panetta, who was receiving the ADL’s William and Naomi Gorowitz Institute Service Award, said the US needs to “maintain a healthy skepticism” when negotiating to suss out Iran’s true level of commitment to negotiations over its nuclear program.

“It is the Supreme Leader [Ali Khamenei] who is key, and he is not likely to give up [uranium] enrichment,” Panetta warned. “We have to remain strong. We have to remain consistent.”

Panetta reiterated the American line that the US has “no friend, no better ally in the world than Israel,” but he expressed concern over the “growing sense of isolationism in this country [the US]” over the last 10 years of fighting two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the shifting power dynamics among world leaders.

“The fact remains that we live in a very dangerous world,” he said. “We continue to have threats from North Korea as they test nuclear weapons. We have instability and fragility in the Middle East. All of this happens at a time when we are imperiled by gridlock in Washington.”

Panetta was introduced by current Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who expressed his admiration for his predecessor, and similarly indicated his support for maintaining a firm hand with Tehran, while at the same exploring diplomatic options.

“We are testing Iranian intentions for diplomatic solutions,” Hagel said.

“When we engage Iran along with our partners, we are clear-eyed about the reality in the Middle East. Iran is a state sponsor of terror... but foreign policy is not a zero-sum game.”

Hagel advocated for exploring more ways to resolve disputes, and tried to soothe audience members concerned that diplomacy would lead nowhere.

“Engagement is not appeasement, nor is it containment,” he said. “We know what those are, we know where they lead, and we will not pursue them. And President Obama has repeatedly made clear that words are not enough. Action must match words.”

Hagel announced that the US would be selling Israel six V-22 Osprey tiltrotor helicopters, and that he recognized the “challenges” on Israel’s borders given the crises in Egypt and Syria. “There are no margins for Israel,” Hagel said.

The other headliner of the first day of the meeting was UN Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, who received a gift from ADL National Director Abe Foxman – a book with the word “Jew” written in it six million times, as a tribute to her work in the field of genocide, Foxman said.

She address the collaboration between the US and Israeli missions at the UN, and vowed to continue working to expand Israel’s role.

“I have made it a priority... to oppose every example of anti-Israeli bias in the UN system,” Power said. “On my watch, we will push ceaselessly for the further inclusion of Israel in regional groups. We will demand objectivity in resolutions affecting Middle East peace.... There is no basis to exclude Israel from full participation in the United Nations system.”

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