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Netanyahu keeps clear of Hagel confirmation fight

Jan. 13, 2013 12:07 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 13, 2013 12:08 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu steered clear of the brewing battle in Washington over the nomination for defense secretary of Chuck Hagel, whose record on Israel and Iran is under scrutiny.

"I do not interfere in the political appointments of the US president. It is his prerogative," Netanyahu, who has had a testy relationship with Barack Obama, told Army Radio on Sunday when asked about the nomination.

"Congress decides and confirms, and we will work with whoever is chosen."

Many Republicans say Hagel, a former Republican senator whose nomination was announced by Obama on Monday, has at times opposed Israel's interests.

He voted repeatedly against US sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program and made disparaging remarks about the influence of what he called a "Jewish lobby" in Washington.

Hagel sought to beat back the bias allegations last week, telling the Lincoln Journal Star newspaper his record showed "unequivocal, total support for Israel" and that he had "said many times that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism."

Last week, a columnist for Israel's biggest selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, said Hagel's confirmation as defense secretary would be Netanyahu's "nightmare".

Netanyahu, widely forecast to win a Jan. 22 parliamentary election, faced criticism by some US Democrats before the American election in November that he was interfering in US politics by criticizing Washington's handling of Iran.

The conservative Israeli leader denied those allegations.
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