Rand Paul Courts Israeli Leaders, But Stays Silent On Chuck Hagel's defence Nomination

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Photo: Sen. Rand Paul

JERUSALEM — Sen. Rand Paul steered clear of wrangling over former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination as defence Secretary, as he wrapped up a second day of meetings with political leaders in the Middle East Tuesday. “I haven’t made a decision on it yet,” Paul said, when asked whether he would vote to confirm Hagel as Secretary of defence. Hagel, a former Republican Senator, has faced intense criticism from Republicans and pro-Israel Democrats over his past statements on Israel and Iran. 

An aide to Paul said Hagel’s nomination has not come up in meetings with Middle Eastern leaders — an indication that the issue of Hagel’s support for Israel is far more salient in the U.S. than it is among Israelis themselves. Paul sat down with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President Shimon Peres, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday, and traveled to Jordan Tuesday to sit down with King Abdullah II and leaders of the Jordanian Senate. 

According to the aide, who attended the meetings, the discussions covered a range of topics, including Israeli security concerns, the ongoing conflict in Syria, and the possibility of opening up trade in the West Bank — all issues that Paul will likely grapple with when he takes his new seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee later this month. 

He has also addressed his opposition to U.S. foreign aid, a position his detractors characterise as anti-Israel. 

Conceding that his is the minority opinion, Paul said that he favours cutting back on foreign aid piecemeal, first by focusing on countries that are in conflict with the U.S., and then by gradually reducing aid to allies like Israel. 

“I wouldn’t say we should necessarily [cut aid] across the board,” he said. “I would start with the people who aren’t acting like our allies, and take it from them. But I would also say to people who are our friends, we are out of money. We are in danger of destroying our country if we keep spending money at this rate.” 

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