WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Iran’s Foreign Ministry appears to be backing President Barack Obama’s pick of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., as secretary of defense.
Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in an interview Tuesday that he hopes the Hagel nomination will improve relations between the United States and Tehran.
“We hope there will be practical changes in American foreign policy and that Washington becomes respectful of the rights of nations,” Mehmanparast said, according to Reuters.
Hagel has previously criticized discussion of a military strike by either the U.S. or Israel against Iran and spoken of the influence of the “Jewish lobby” on Congress. He also has backed efforts to bring Iran to the table for talks on future peace in Afghanistan.
“The appointment of Chuck Hagel would be a slap in the face for every American who is concerned about the safety of Israel,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
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In comments to the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, Hagel said critics have “completely distorted” his record, insisting he has backed sanctions against Iran and demonstrated total support for Israel.
The National Jewish Democratic Council issued a statement Monday saying it trusts that Hagel “will follow the president’s lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel,” including “leading the world against Iran’s nuclear program.”
President Barack Obama called Hagel “the leader our troops deserve” as he formally nominated the former Republican senator during a White House news conference Monday.
“In Chuck Hagel our troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength,” Obama said. “They see one of their own,” who will champion veterans and military families.
The former senator shares many of the same ideals of Obama’s first Pentagon leader, Republican Robert Gates. When Obama became president in 2009, he asked Gates to remain as defense secretary. Both Hagel and Gates talk of the need for global answers to regional conflicts and an emphasis on so-called soft power, including economic and political aid, to bolster weak nations.
“A Hagel nomination signals an interest in, and a commitment to continuing a bipartisan approach to national security,” said David Berteau, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
He said Hagel’s two terms in the Senate, before he retired in 2009, spanned the latter years of the post-Cold War military drawdown and the post-Sept. 11 buildup. “From a budget point of view he has seen both ends of the spectrum and that gives him a good perspective to start from.”
Hagel’s possible selection has been met with mixed reviews. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Hagel would be “terrific.”
But Republicans have said he faces tough questions, with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham declaring Hagel would be “the most antagonistic secretary of defense towards the state of Israel in our nation’s history.”
Defense analyst Loren Thompson, of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute think tank, said Hagel knows the political system and is known for thinking outside the box, which would help as budget cuts move forward.
“He’s a veteran who understands how Congress works and has stayed plugged in to developments in defense policy,” Thompson said. “He is not tied to the status quo and will think creatively about how to manage America’s military forces.”
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