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Tue Jan 15, 2013, 10:55 PM

Hagel's chances improve, major pro-Israel groups neutral

(Reuters) - Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel appears increasingly likely to be confirmed as U.S. defense secretary, thanks to support from two key senators and the lack of an overt campaign against him by mainstream pro-Israel groups.

Hagel, whose comments on Israel, Iran and gay rights have sparked opposition to his candidacy, on Tuesday won the backing of Senator Charles Schumer, the Senate's No. 3 Democrat, who had been conspicuously on the fence. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, also weighed in with support.

Schumer's support was seen as pivotal given his record as a strong supporter of Israel. Both he and Boxer are Jewish.

Neoconservative activists have vociferously attacked Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran, over past statements questioning the wisdom of using military force to stop Iran's nuclear program and complaining about what he called the intimidating influence of the "Jewish lobby" in Washington.


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