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Secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel walked back and apologized for his most controversial foreign policy views during a meeting Friday with Jewish organizational leaders, according to sources with knowledge of the gathering.
The meeting was aimed at mollifying concerns American Jewish leaders have expressed about Hagel, a former Republican Nebraska senator who has expressed sharp criticism of Israel and been condemned for his controversial comments about the so-called “Jewish lobby.”
The meeting also served as a preview of how Hagel’s Jan. 31 confirmation hearings will likely play out.
Hagel walked back his desire to negotiate directly with Hamas and Iran during his presentation, which included representatives from the American Jewish Committee, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Hagel, who was joined by Vice President Joe Biden and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, also articulated his dedication to the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Hagel was “indicating that he’s on the same page as the president on sanctions [against Iran] and the use of force,” said one source familiar with the meeting.
Hagel additionally “emphasized that it was important for the U.S. not to act alone and the importance of engagement.”
Other Obama administration participants such as Biden and Rhodes made it clear to Jewish attendees that “this is what the president wants.”
“For the White House they wanted to check off the box and make it clear that this is what the president wants,” said the source. “More than anything the meeting was because the White House wanted to send a message that this was clearly the president’s pick.”
Hagel also submitted to a question and answer session with Jewish leaders, according to the source.
The Jewish groups jointly issued a neutral four-sentence statement following the meeting.
“My sense is they weren’t surprised by [Hagel’s remarks], that this is what you would expect,” said the source familiar with the meeting.
Hagel’s office on Tuesday also released a statement about the meeting, the JTA reported.
“Sen. Hagel met with the leadership of several major American Jewish organizations at the White House as a part of his ongoing outreach,” the statement said.
“He discussed his commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship, including his determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, to maintaining Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, and to sustaining the Obama Administration’s unprecedented security cooperation with Israel. He appreciated the opportunity to have a constructive, informed and wide-ranging discussion,” the statement said.