WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that he and President Barack Obama had "no major differences" that led to Hagel's resignation.
Hagel said he simply came to the conclusion that it was the right time for him to step aside, and he leaves believing that he accomplished a great deal.
Hagel's comments marked the first time he has responded to questions about his resignation since he submitted it Nov. 24.
Asked directly whether he felt he was pressured to resign, Hagel was not specific. He called it a "mutual decision" with Obama based on one-on-one talks at the White House. He said there was no single reason for his resignation.
He said he and Obama had talked about the coming two years, the last of Obama's term, and saw what Hagel called "another zone" of challenges ahead for the country. "Leaders have to be wise enough to know that," he said.
"We both came to the conclusion," he said, referring to his private consultations with Obama, "that I think the country was best served with new leadership. He thought it was (also), over at this institution after we had talked through it."
When Obama announced that Hagel was leaving, he called the former Republican senator from Nebraska an "exemplary" Pentagon chief and indicated that resigning was Hagel's decision. He said Hagel approached him and "determined that ... it was an appropriate time for him to complete his service."
The White House says it will announce Hagel's replacement Friday.