15 Republicans urge Obama to scrap Pentagon nominee

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Fifteen US Senate Republicans on Thursday urged President Barack Obama to withdraw his controversial pick to head the Pentagon, even as others in the party concede the nominee will be confirmed next week.

Mr Obama's nominee, Republican former senator Chuck Hagel, has faced intense opposition by current lawmakers and was grilled by the likes of Senator John McCain during a testy hearing in which critics questioned Hagel's positions on Iran, nuclear weapons, Israel and the US troop surge in Iraq.

"Senator Hagel's performance at his confirmation hearing was deeply concerning, leading to serious doubts about his basic competence to meet the substantial demands of the office," the senators, led by number two Republican John Cornyn, said in a letter to Mr Obama.

"While senator Hagel's erratic record and myriad conversions on key national security issues are troubling enough, his statements regarding Iran were disconcerting." Hagel stumbled at times during his lengthy testimony late last month, mistakenly saying he favored "containment" of Iran instead of Mr Obama's policy of preventing Teheran from obtaining nuclear weapons. He corrected himself later after being handed a note.

"If senator Hagel becomes secretary of defense the military option (against Iran) will have zero credibility," the senators wrote.

Republicans managed to force a delay on Mr Hagel's confirmation vote last week, saying some colleagues needed more time to study Hagel's finances and speech transcripts.

A vote is expected Tuesday in the Democratic-held Senate, and some Republicans foresee Mr Hagel's confirmation. McCain said Sunday he was "confident" Hagel would have the necessary votes even though he did not support him.

Mr Hagel got a boost Thursday when a spokesman for Senator Richard Shelby said that, "barring any unforeseen surprises before the votes," the Alabama Republican would support Hagel's nomination.

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