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Obama announces key cabinet picks

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama announced the nominations of Republican Chuck Hagel as his next defence secretary and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan as the new CIA director.

The choice of Hagel, a maverick former Republican senator and decorated Vietnam veteran, had been widely tipped to replace Leon Panetta at the Pentagon. The move will likely set up a tough Senate confirmation battle against critics who have attacked his record on Israel and Iran.

Brennan, who formerly served at the CIA, will succeed retired general David Petraeus, who resigned amid a scandal over an extramarital affair with his biographer.

The addition of Hagel and Brennan, along with Senator John Kerry as nominee for secretary of state, would fill out the team Obama will rely upon as he faces daunting challenges of winding down the war in Afghanistan, dealing with the Iranian nuclear standoff and curbing Pentagon spending.

Hagel, a Vietnam veteran and former Nebraska senator who left the Senate in 2008, faces tough criticism from many Republicans over actions they see as opposing Israel’s interests, including votes against US sanctions on Iran and remarks about what he called a “Jewish lobby” in Washington. Hagel has also been critical of the size of the US military.

But the White House appears confident it can overcome the criticism to win confirmation of Hagel in the Democratic-led Senate.

Retired Army General Stanley McChrystal, speaking on NBC’s Today programme, said Hagel’s statements should not disqualify him.

“If President Obama trusts him, I think Senator Hagel has the experience. He’s certainly got the qualities as a person,” said McChrystal, the former top US commander in Afghanistan who resigned in 2010. (Reuters)

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