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Hagel's allies say he'll woo critics at hearing today

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By USA Today
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 7:42 p.m.

WASHINGTON — After weeks of hearing from critics that Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel is not tough enough on Iran, not tight enough with Israel and too eager to dismantle the nation's nuclear arsenal, Hagel's allies say he will dispel those concerns during his hearing on Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Chuck's not soft on anybody,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a committee member.

Interest groups have taken out millions of dollars in ads blasting Hagel. The top Republican on the committee, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, penned an op-ed in The Washington Post on Sunday saying Hagel's stands disqualify him for the office.

Another committee member, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said this week he would block Hagel's nomination until Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testifies on the military's response to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans.

Hagel, in written comments to the committee, called Israel a “key security partner of the United States.” Regarding Iran, he wrote that he backs President Obama's position that military options will be considered to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“With the ever-present threat of Iran, the next secretary of Defense must be vigilant in pursuing the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and must maintain our unshakable commitment to Israel's security,” Hagel wrote.

Countering terrorism and threats in cyberspace will be among his top priorities, he said.

Hagel is working in an office in the Pentagon to prepare for what Obama and his administration expect will be a successful confirmation process. One key Republican, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, has said he will vote for Hagel, a former two-term Republican senator from Nebraska. Cochran is the ranking Republican on the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee, which determines military spending.

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