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Panetta assures Israeli defense minister

  |   Jan. 10, 2013 at 10:38 AM
WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak that the Defense Department appreciated his commitment to strong bilateral ties.

Panetta met in Washington with Barack to express appreciation for the Israeli leader's commitment to security and a strong bilateral relationship.

"The secretary commended Minister Barak on his tireless efforts in advancing the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship," a statement from the Pentagon read.

Panetta announced this week he was retiring as secretary of defense. He also served as director of the CIA.

U.S. President Barack Obama nominated former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., as Panetta's replacement. Hagel has drawn criticism from Republicans who say they are concerned about his stance on Israel and Iran.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, writes for CNN that Hagel is seen as too tough on Israel and too soft on Iran. Cornyn said it was frustrating that Hagel has also expressed a need to engage diplomatically with Hamas, which runs Gaza yet is labeled as a terrorist organization by some governments, including the United States.

"Thus, by nominating Hagel for defense secretary, the president has sent the worst possible message to our closest Middle Eastern ally and our greatest Middle Eastern enemy," writes Cornyn.

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