Obama names Hagel, Brennan for top security posts

International

President Barack Obama on Monday nominated Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator, as his next defence secretary and counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan to head CIA, urging the US Senate to confirm them quickly.

Hagel has faced tough criticism from congressional Republicans who say the former Republican senator is anti-Israel and soft on Iran. Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, withdrew from consideration for the agency's top job in 2008 amid questions about his connection to criticized interrogation techniques during George W Bush's administration.

Brennan's nomination also will draw attention to the highly secretive US drone programme, which is highly unpopular overseas. He was the first Obama administration official to publicly acknowledge the targeted killing operations.

Obama called Hagel "the leader that our troops deserve" and said both men understand that "the work of protecting our nation is never done".

Along with secretary of state nominee Sen John Kerry, Hagel and Brennan would play key roles implementing and shaping Obama's national security priorities. All three must be confirmed by the Senate.

In nominating Hagel, Obama signalled he is willing to take on a tough confirmation fight. The 66-year-old moderate Republican has criticized discussion of a military strike by either the US or Israel against Iran. He also irritated some Israel supporters with his reference to the "Jewish lobby" in the United States. And he has backed efforts to bring Iran to the table for future peace talks in Afghanistan.

The second-ranking Senate Republican, John Cornyn, said in a statement that making Hagel defense secretary would be "the worst possible message we could send to our friend Israel and the rest of our allies in the Middle East".

Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, said Hagel will be "completely in line with the president" on both issues.

Hagel is the second straight Obama favourite for a top national security post to face criticism from lawmakers even before being nominated.

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