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Powell defends Hagel as US defense chief pick
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Jan 13, 2013

Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell defended Chuck Hagel's nomination to become America's next defense chief Sunday, arguing that the ex-senator has the necessary experience for the job.

Hagel was last week picked by President Barack Obama to take charge at the Pentagon, but he faces a tricky Senate confirmation hearing given skepticism among some US lawmakers, especially over several past remarks regarding Israel.

Powell, however, who like Hagel served in Vietnam, rejected those doubts and said Obama's choice should be rubber-stamped by lawmakers given his strong war record and wide respect among US armed forces members and their families.

"He's had a very, very distinguished public service record that he can stand on," Powell said NBC's "Meet the Press," program.

"There are a lot of comments about different things he's said over the years, and I think he'll have a chance to respond to all those comments at his confirmation hearings."

Analysts and commentators note that Hagel, a Republican, is known for a non-interventionist approach to foreign policy, and is believed to be strongly opposed to the use of military force to tackle Iran's nuclear program.

Hagel, who backed then president George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq but later turned sharply against the conflict, has blasted Iran war talk as "dangerous."

Such a stance has outraged conservatives who fear Hagel could undermine US threats of force, adding to the Pentagon nominee's reputation as a somewhat reviled figure among Republicans in the wake of his apostasy over Iraq.

But Powell said there was no doubt about Hagel's mettle when it comes to fighting battles.

"He knows what war is and he will fight a war if necessary, but he will do it with great deliberation and care," Powell said, noting that ambassadors and members of the US defense and intelligence community regard Hagel as "a solid guy who speaks his mind."

"He's a good supporter of Israel and he's been there and the record will show that, but he's not reluctant to disagree when he thinks disagreement is appropriate," Powell said of Hagel.

Remarking on Israel's concerns over Iran's nuclear intentions, Powell said use of US military force was still "feasible," but added: "I'm glad that we have people like the president and Chuck Hagel who will be very careful."

Speculation about a possible unilateral Israeli strike on Tehran's nuclear facilities reached fever pitch last year, but ultimately came to nothing, amid reports of strong US opposition to any such move.


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