Obama touts Hagel, says no decision on defense secretary job

WASHINGTON Sun Dec 30, 2012 9:00am EST

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WASHINGTON Dec 30 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama offered strong support for former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as the potential next U.S. defense secretary but said in remarks aired on Sunday he has not yet decided on a nominee for the Pentagon post.

Hagel is considered a leading candidate to replace outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, but he has come under criticism for his record on Israel and for a comment that being gay was an inhibiting factor for being an ambassador.

"I've served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot. He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate, somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam," Obama told NBC's "Meet the Press" in an interview taped on Saturday and broadcast on Sunday.

Obama said he has seen nothing that would disqualify Hagel.

The president said Hagel had apologized for his comments related to homosexuality, referred to by NBC's David Gregory in the interview.

"With respect to the particular comment that you quoted, he apologized for it," Obama said.

"And I think it's a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people's attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country. And that's something that I'm very proud to have led."

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