Powell backs Hagel as secretary of defense

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WASHINGTON -- Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a twice-wounded Vietnam War veteran, is "superbly qualified" to run the Pentagon, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said yesterday.

Powell, like Hagel a Republican, rejected criticisms from other party members over a comment the former Nebraska lawmaker made about the "Jewish lobby" and a 2007 vote opposing designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization.

"He is a very strong supporter of the state of Israel," Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "It doesn't mean you have to agree with every single position the Israeli government takes."

Hagel, 66, has come under attack from Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will consider his nomination for secretary of defense.

While Powell was leading the State Department under President George W. Bush, Hagel criticized the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Powell said Hagel "is a solid guy who speaks his mind. He's ultimately superbly qualified based on his overall record, his service to the country, how he feels about the troops and their families."

Critics of the Nebraska Republican drove home concerns that Hagel opposes sanctions and is satisfied with containing Iran, as opposed to preventing its obtaining a nuclear weapon.

"I . . . wonder what message are we sending to Iran, what message are we sending to Israel and I am perplexed that the president has nominated him," Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) told "Fox News Sunday."

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Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) reiterated those concerns and aired another charge against him: his temperament.

"Is he suited to run a department or a big agency or a big entity like the Pentagon," Corker asked on ABC's "This Week." "There are numbers of staffers who are coming forth now just talking about the way he has dealt with them," he said without elaborating.

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