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By tradition, Cabinet nominees are expected to avoid public comment until their confirmation hearings.
Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, in an opinion piece entitled “Why I Can’t Support Hagel,” accused Hagel of failing to understand the threat from Iran and groups like Hamas.
One U.S. official who is familiar with the information Hagel is providing to members of the Senate defended Hagel’s approach to the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas. As a senator, Hagel decided not to join 88 other senators in a 2006 letter calling on the European Union to designate Lebanon-based Hez b ollah a terrorist organization.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Hagel believes it is not appropriate for members of Congress to write foreign leaders and that they should write the president, instead. More important, the official said, was Hagel’s voting record.
“There were a number of pieces of legislation that actually called on Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization that he supported and voted for,” the official said.
On Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip, the official said Hagel also felt his position was being misrepresented. Despite claims to the contrary by critics, Hagel d o es not support direct, unconditional engagement with Hamas and agrees it must first renounce violence, he said.
The officials declined to say which lawmakers Hagel has spoken with but said they included members of both parties. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona has spoken with him and the two agreed to meet, McCain’s spokesman said.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, following two meetings with Hagel this week, on Thursday predicted that Hagel would ultimately be confirmed as his successor.
“In these confirmation battles, there are a lot of charges that will be out there,” Panetta said. “But ultimately, the truth prevails. And I think the truth in this case will mean that he’ll be confirmed.”