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Pentagon nominee Gates to go before US Senate panel

Written by: Staff
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SHINGTON, Dec 5 (Reuters) Robert Gates, US President George W Bush's choice to take over the Pentagon as the Iraq war grinds on, goes before the Senate Armed Services Committee today for what is expected to be quick hearing ahead of likely Senate confirmation later this week.

Senators eager to be rid of Donald Rumsfeld -- an architect of the unpopular war -- are preparing to line up behind Gates as the next secretary of defense, barring any hurdles arising during what may be just a one-day hearing.

They will focus on the Iraq war, with Democrats seeking a pledge from Gates, a former CIA chief, to change the course.

The Democrats, many of whom favor a phased withdrawal of US troops, say change is dictated by November congressional election results that gave big wins to their party over President Bush's Republicans.

''We've got to have a change in Iraq policy. We have to have someone who will speak truth to power and not just tell the president what he wants to hear,'' said Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, who will take over as chairman of the committee in January when the new Democratic-led Congress takes power.

The outgoing chairman, Virginia Republican John Warner, hopes the panel will send Mr Gates' name to the full Senate in time for a vote tomorrow. That would be the same day the Iraq Study Group is to make recommendations to President Bush. Mr Gates took part in the group before he was nominated to the Pentagon.

In his written testimony to the committee last month, Gates appeared to oppose a sudden pullout from Iraq. ''I believe that leaving Iraq in chaos would have dangerous consequences both in the region and globally for many years to come,'' he wrote.

Mr Gates, 63, has no Pentagon experience but he is a former CIA analyst who ran the agency from 1991-93 and is recognized as having a powerful intellect, even by his detractors. He left Washington in 1993 and is president of Texas A&M University.

Smooth sailing for him this week would be a contrast to his brutal 1991 confirmation hearings, when he was nominated to run the CIA and accused of having skewed 1980s intelligence to suit the Reagan administration's anti-Soviet views.

He also faced questioning over his alleged role in the ''Iran-Contra'' affair, involving secret US arms sales to Iran and diversion of profits to Nicaragua's Contra rebels.

REUTERS SHB RK1325

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