Policy & Strategy

Panetta to fly to Europe for NATO meeting

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta may have one foot out the door at
the Pentagon, but he’s headed to Europe next week for a NATO meeting of defense
ministers.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said Friday that Panetta
would travel to Europe for next week’s NATO meeting, a trip the secretary had
hoped to avoid.

The Pentagon and White House had wanted President Obama’s
choice to succeed Panetta, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), in the job for the
NATO meeting, where U.S. plans to withdraw 34,000
troops from Afghanistan over the next year will be a major topic.

Republicans, however, blocked Hagel’s confirmation Thursday
on a 58-40 procedural vote that needed 60 votes. The Senate is in recess until
Feb. 25, meaning Hagel has more than a week to wait before he can be confirmed.

{mosads}Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blasted
Republicans for holding up Hagel’s confirmation, saying it was the first
filibuster in history of a Defense secretary nominee.

Reid also said that the United States would be without
a Defense secretary as of Thursday.

While Panetta did travel back to his California home
Thursday — where he will retire to his walnut farm — he remained in his
position as Defense secretary. And he will stay on until his successor is in
place, defense officials say.

He is eager to retire, however, and less eager to take
another trip abroad in a job where he’s already had his farewell ceremony.

“The second best Valentine’s present would be to allow Sylvia
and I to get the hell out of town at the end of the day,” Panetta said of he
and his wife at an event Thursday honoring former Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton.

Tags Chuck Hagel Harry Reid
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