Hagel backtracks on disparaging 'Jewish lobby' comments

US defense secretary nominee apologizes for comments he made in 2006 that "Jewish lobby" intimidates US lawmakers, promises to work to expand US-Israel ties and says he supports sanctions on Iran.

Chuck Hagel speaks in Islamabad 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mian Kursheed)
Chuck Hagel speaks in Islamabad 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mian Kursheed)
US President Barack Obama's nominee for defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, apologized for controversial comments he made in 2006 about a "Jewish lobby" in Washington, and clarified his position on Iran and Hezbollah in a letter to Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, posted on the Washington news site Politico on Tuesday.
In the letter to Boxer, Hagel apologized for disparaging remarks he made in 2006, saying a "Jewish lobby" in Washington tends to "intimidate" lawmakers. He deemed it as "a very poor choice of words" and said he understands how such words "can be constructed as anti-Israel."
Hagel clarified that he is "overwhelmingly supportive of a strong US-Israel strategic and security relationship," and promised to work to expand the ties between the two countries.
Critics of the Nebraska Republican took to Sunday television news programs to drive home concerns that Hagel opposes sanctions and is satisfied with containing Iran, as opposed to preventing it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
But Hagel, who repeated voted in the Senate against US sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, wrote in the letter that he supports unilateral sanctions against Iran.
In 2006, Hagel questioned Israel's dealings with Hezbollah in Lebanon and declined to sign a letter calling on the European Union to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. In his letter to Boxer, Hagel pacified critics by condemning Hezbollah as a terrorist threat to Israel.
Hagel added that he supports giving foreign aid to Israel, and that he previously called Hamas a terrorist group as well.
Reuters contributed to this report.