New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, indicated Tuesday that he would support President Barack Obama's nomination of former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense.
Hagel's nomination has come under fire from a number of key Republicans in the Senate who feel that he has been too critical of Israel and not sufficiently tough in his stance on Iran. Additionally, Hagel had come under fire from some on the left for previous statements on gays serving in the military.
In a written statement, Schumer, the Senate's No. 3 Democrat, said he had met extensively with Hagel at the White House Monday and that the openness Hagel had shown and assurances he had made were enough to secure Schumer's support.
"On Iran, Senator Hagel rejected a strategy of containment and expressed the need to keep all options on the table in confronting that country. But he didn't stop there," Schumer said. "In our conversation, Senator Hagel made a crystal-clear promise that he would do 'whatever it takes' to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including the use of military force."
Schumer added that Hagel said, "his 'top priority' as Secretary of Defense would be the planning of military contingencies related to Iran."
Hagel also reassured Schumer that despite some past statements questioning the effectiveness of unilateral sanctions against Iran, Hagel now believes that such sanctions can be effective and that he completely supports Obama's positions on the matter, Schumer said.
Schumer said that he had also questioned Hagel about his position on Hezbollah and Hamas, to which Hagel said he views both organizations as terrorist groups and would not support talks with either group until they renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist.
"Senator Hagel volunteered that he has always supported Israel's right to retaliate militarily in the face of terrorist attacks by Hezbollah or Hamas," Schumer said.
He added, "In keeping with our promises to help equip Israel, Senator Hagel pledged to work towards the on-time delivery of the F-35 joint strike fighters to Israel, continue the cooperation between Israel and the U.S. on Iron Dome [an anti-missile system], and recommend to the President that we refuse to join in any NATO exercises if Turkey should continue to insist on excluding Israel from them."
Schumer also said that Hagel regretted his remarks disparaging pro-Israel groups and supports the full repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy banning openly gay people from serving in the military.
"I know some will question whether Senator Hagel's assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post. But I don't think so," Schumer said. "Senator Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago. His views are genuine, and reflect this new reality."
He added, "While the Senate confirmation process must be allowed to run its course, it is my hope that Senator Hagel's thorough explanations will remove any lingering controversy regarding his nomination."
by RTT Staff Writer
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