White House defends Hagel as Obama mulls Pentagon choice

December 21, 2012 01:10

WASHINGTON - The White House on Thursday came to the defense of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel against critics who have attacked his record on Israel and Iran in a bid to head off his possible nomination as US President Barack Obama's next Pentagon chief.

With Hagel considered a leading choice for defense secretary, the administration joined allies rallying to support him against the onslaught, led by some pro-Israel groups and neo-conservatives, but also including former colleagues on Capitol Hill.

It was the second time since Obama's re-election last month that the White House has found itself forced to defend a Cabinet candidate who has yet to be nominated for anything, a source of frustration for the president's advisers.

Some American Jewish leaders contend Hagel, who left the Senate in 2008, at times opposed Israel's interests, voting several times against US sanctions on Iran, and made disparaging remarks about the influence of what he called a "Jewish lobby" in Washington.

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