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Hagel Sworn In As U.S. Defense Chief As Budget Cuts Loom

Former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel speaks during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C., in January.
Republican Chuck Hagel has been sworn in as the U.S. defense secretary in President Barack Obama's Democratic administration, following a bitter nomination fight in the Senate.

Addressing Pentagon employees after the ceremony, Hagel said: "We can't dictate to the world. But we must engage the world. We must lead with our allies."

He was confirmed on February 26 in the closest vote ever for a defense secretary, with just four fellow Republicans voting for him.

Republicans have seriously questioned Hagel's support for Israel and suggested he was too willing to compromise with Iran.

Hagel a former Republican senator for Nebraska and a decorated Vietnam War veteran, succeeds Leon Panetta, who is stepping down after four years as CIA director and Pentagon chief.

Hagel now faces $46 billion in automatic, across-the-board budget cuts that will hit the Defense Department on March 1 unless a deal is reached by the Obama administration and Congress to avoid them.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP