VIRGINIA: President Barack Obama's pick for defense secretary, Ashton Carter, is willing to expand US counter-terrorism cooperation with Pakistan and advancing efforts to arm and integrate Sunni tribal forces into Iraq's battle against Islamic State (IS) militants, according to the opening statement Carter is due to read to the Senate on Wednesday.
Obama’s nominee is poised to tell Republicans in Congress that he might eventually consider reviewing the schedule for withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, and would push to trim wasteful spending.
Carter heads to the Senate for a 9.30am confirmation hearing that is expected to be far smoother than the one that badly damaged outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's political stature two years ago.
He is also due to give Obama his "most candid strategic advice" about the dangers ahead, according to the opening statement.
Carter also said in written answers to questions that he's willing to consider recommending changes to Obama's drawdown plans in Afghanistan next year, should conditions deteriorate.
That could appeal to some Republicans who criticize Obama for setting drawdown targets in Afghanistan as well his limits on US military actions in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.
"I think he's well qualified and he's going to have to do well, Senator Lindsey Graham, a key committee member, told Reuters. “He's going to have to defend the president, but not to a fault,"
Carter was nominated to become Obama's fourth defense secretary after Hagel resigned under pressure last year, raising questions over whether the 60-year-old technocrat would be able break into Obama's tight-knit inner circle. Hagel remains in the job until his successor is confirmed.
Carter's roles include deputy defense secretary - the Pentagon's No. 2 job - from 2011 to 2013 and the Pentagon's chief weapons buyer from 2009-11 when he led a major restructuring of the F-35 fighter jet program.
Carter’s hearing will be closely watched by Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co and other big weapons makers, which are waiting for clues about Carter's priorities and his commitment to new procurement programs, including a new long-range bomber and the Air Force One replacement.
Like Hagel, Carter criticized across-the-board spending cuts imposed by Congress but also singled out the need for greater reform of defense spending, already underway.
"I cannot suggest support and stability for the defense budget without at the same time frankly noting that not every defense dollar is spent as well as it should be," he says in prepared opening remarks.
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