The decision by US President Barack Obama to appoint Chuck Hagel as defense secretary raises questions over Washington’s commitment to preventing Iran from going nuclear, and could signify a shift toward containment, a senior security expert told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.Emily Landau, director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Project at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, noted that Hagel has spoken “about the high cost of war and does not want to make threats. He has opposed unilateral US sanctions on Iran.” And yet, she noted, “The threats of military consequences are crucial for getting Iran serious” about negotiations.“Without economic hardship and the threat of attack on its facilities, why should Iran negotiate? If it can reach its goal on its own, why would it want to make a deal that means giving up that goal, unless it was suffering and afraid of attack? This is where Obama’s choice for secretary of defense – Chuck Hagel – becomes relevant to the debate,” said Landau.Landau wondered whether the choice of Hagel reflected a move by the second Obama administration toward containment as an acceptable position vis-a-vis a nuclear Iran. Containment is a stance that is in direct contradiction to Obama’s statements on Iran made in March 2012, when the American president vowed to prevent a nuclear Iran, rather than contain it.Should the appointment signify a change, “Israel’s uncertainty as far as its ability to trust that Obama has ‘its back’ on the Iranian nuclear issue would prove to have been well-founded.“Moreover, it would be a sad day for nuclear non-proliferation and American leadership on crucial international security issues,” Landau added.“Hopefully this is not the case. But, with so much uncertainty surrounding this crucially important issue, Obama should make the position of his new administration quite clear, and sooner rather than later – through stated policy, and through his next moves in negotiations with Iran,” Landau said.Two months after the US elections, President Obama has shown no urgency in pushing forward with the Iran issue, Landau said, citing remarks he made in mid-November about getting back to talks with Tehran “in the coming months.” There are no signs of progress on US-Iran bilateral talks, or on discussions between the P5+1 countries and Iran.“The question is: What is Obama’s next step? The direction of international efforts for 2013 – and the answer to whether it will finally be a critical year – depends on US determination and strategy, and the answers he provides,” Landau said.