White House Press Secretary Jay Carney
White House Press Secretary Jay CarneyReuters

White House press secretary Jay Carney stumbled Thursday during a line of questioning regarding the legitimacy of the Iranian government, just hours after the beginning of the contentious confirmation hearing of Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel.

"Excuse me, can you ask that again?" Carney responded when a reporter asked if Obama agrees with his nominee, who stated before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the Iranian government is "elected and legitimate."

"Our views on the last presidential election were clearly expressed," he added, before criticizing Iran for its violations of United Nations resolutions mandatng it immediately cease its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Asked again, Carney criticizing "the government that we are dealing with" as "continuing unacceptable behavior."

In his confirmation hearing earlier Thursday, Hagel, who has long come under fire for his soft stance on Iran, inadvertently said the Obama administration supports “containment,” calling the country an “elected legitimate government.”

"I support the president's strong position on containment, as I have said," said the former Republican senator from Nebraska.

The statement differed, however, from his prepared opening statement, in which he said: "I am fully committed to the president’s goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and — as I’ve said in the past — all options must be on the table to achieve that goal.”

Hagel added that the country is "a member of the United Nations. Almost all of our allies have embassies in Iran ... [It is] an elected, legitimate government, whether we agree or not."

Iran’s 2009 elections sparked mass protests nationally as well as internationally regarding the legality of the results, with President Obama voicing his "deep concerns" over possible vote-rigging to favor Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“I think our views on the last presidential election were clearly expressed, the president’s views on that matter and our views on the behavior of the regime in Tehran are expressed again and again and again," Carney said.

Carney also condemned Iran's decision in install new equipment at its Natanz nuclear plant, calling the move a "further escalation" of tensions over its nuclear program.

"The installation of new advanced centrifuges is a further escalation and a continuing violation ... of Iran's obligations under relevant United Nations Security Council and IAEA board resolutions," Carney said.