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WASHINGTON/telaviv:Chuck Hagel, bracing for a bruising Senate confirmation as the next US defense secretary, pledged yesterday “total support” for Israel after lawmakers criticised his views on the Middle East.
There is “not one shred of evidence that I’m anti-Israeli, not one vote (of mine) that matters that hurt Israel,” the former Republican senator told The Lincoln Journal Star, a newspaper in his home state of Nebraska.
Hagel and President Barack Obama did not address the controversy as he was nominated at the White House.
But the Nebraska newspaper quoted the famously blunt senator as saying that critics have “completely distorted” his record.
Hagel said that, until his nomination was announced, he had been “hanging out in no-man’s land unable to respond to charges, falsehoods and distortions” and that he has shown “unequivocal, total support for Israel.”
Pro-Israel lawmakers and commentators have denounced Hagel, with some accusing him of anti-Semitism, for his past comments that “the Jewish lobby” intimidated members of Congress and that he is “not an Israeli senator.”
In what could be a preview of his case in confirmation hearings, Hagel told the newspaper he did not sign on to largely symbolic resolutions in Congress supported by a pro-Israeli group because they were “counter-productive.”
“How does that further the peace process in the Middle East?” Hagel asked. “What’s in Israel’s interest is to help Israel and the Palestinians find some peaceful way to live together.” Hagel’s critics have also denounced him for opposing economic sanctions on Iran.
US lawmakers accuse Iran of developing nuclear weapons, although the clerical government says that its program is for peaceful purposes.
Hagel told the newspaper that he opposed sanctions that were imposed only by the United States.
“United Nations sanctions are working. When we just decree something, that doesn’t work,” he said.
The Obama administration, after initial outreach to Iran, has worked through the United Nations to impose sanctions. Obama also signed a tough law initiated by Congress that punishes any country that buys Iran’s oil, its key export.