Republican Senator and possible presidential contender Chuck Hagel urged the United States to engage Iran and warned of the pitfalls of military conflict in a speech to national Jewish public affairs councils Monday evening. Hagel, whose criticisms of American foreign policy in the Middle East have ruffled the Bush administration, also backed greater US involvement on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. "A military conflict with Iran would inflame the Middle East," which couldn't be in the United States' interest, he warned. "It could not be in the interests of Israel." "The United States should engage directly with Iran and Syria," he told the audience. "When countries do not engage, [they make] uninformed and dangerous decisions." Though it's currently impossible to have formal diplomatic ties with Iran - which Hagel labeled a "destabilizing" power and "state-sponsor of terror" - he suggested that the US open a consulate there to facilitate greater contacts between the two peoples. "Iran is not monolithic," he said. "We do not want to lose this pro-American generation. They're the future." Hagel's comments were warmly received by the audience. When the sound system broke, Hagel came down from the podium to speak with those who had lined up at microphones to question him. Many offered their support for his comments and asked how they could work towards his vision. Hagel was preceded at the conference by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who reflected on his role as the court's seventh Jewish justice and the fact that his nomination came less than a year after Jewish colleague Ruth Bader Ginsburg's ascension to the august panel. Though Breyer evinced some pride in the achievement, he also suggested that his background shouldn't be newsworthy. He did remark, however, that if someone had told his immigrant grandfather that his grandson would be appointed to the Supreme Court, he would have been very skeptical. He added, to knowing laughter, "My mother would not have been skeptical." In response to a question from the audience, Breyer stressed the growing importance of examining other countries' legal systems and rulings in considering cases. In our increasingly small world, he said, "judges have to know more about the laws of other countries or how to find [them]." He drew on an example from Israeli jurisprudence in his earlier discussion on how the court weighs civil liberties with security measures. "Israel has faced problems like this all the time," he said.