Obama taps national security team


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Barack Obama in naming his national security team said his priorities include Israeli-Palestinian peace and preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

At a news conference in Chicago, the president-elect nominated U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as secretary of state; Susan Rice, a Clinton administration deputy national security adviser, as envoy to the United Nations; Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as homeland security secretary; and Eric Holder, a Clinton administration deputy attorney general, as attorney general.

Obama also named officials who do not require Senate confirmation, including Robert Gates, who will continue his Bush administration role as defense secretary, and Gen. James Jones, a former NATO commander, as national security adviser.

Pro-Israel groups had welcomed leaked reports that Clinton would get the job at state. Clinton, Obama’s chief rival in the primaries, may have the closest relationship with the pro-Israel lobby among Democratic leaders.

"There is much to do, from preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to Iran and North Korea, to seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, to strengthening international institutions," Obama said. "I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton is the right person to lead our State Department and to work with me in tackling this ambitious foreign policy agenda."

Jones was known for cultivating closer NATO-Israel ties. In his most recent role as a monitor of Israeli and Palestinian compliance with peace agreements, he drew fire from Israeli officials for his tough criticism of Israel, although he was equally as critical of the Palestinians. Rice, whose Clinton-era expertise was Africa, will have Cabinet-level status.

The naming of the team comes after last week’s announcement of Obama’s national security transition teams. The National Security Policy Working Group, which will shape policy, includes pro-Israel figures such as James Steinberg, a Clinton-era deputy national security adviser who is slated to be Clinton’s deputy at the State Department; Dennis Ross, the Clinton administration’s top Middle East envoy; Daniel Shapiro, who led Obama’s Jewish outreach during the campaign; and Jeremy Bash, a former staffer with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Also announced last week were the Agency Review Teams for each department; those teams help nominees through Senate confirmation.

The State Department’s review team includes Samantha Power, a genocide expert who had good relations with Jewish groups until 2002, when she suggested that Israel was guilty of war crimes in how it handled the second intifada.

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