Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

Obama's defense pick says he leans toward arming Ukraine against rebels

Ashton Carter tells Senate he is inclined to backs weapons for Ukrainian military in fight against pro-Russian groups

President Barack Obama's pick to run to be the next secretary of defense said Wednesday he was “very much inclined” to back increased U.S. support to Ukraine — including lethal arms — to fight against Russian-backed anti-government rebels.

“My responsibilities would be to protect America and its friends and allies in a turbulent and dangerous world,” Ashton Carter said at his Senate confirmation hearing. “We need to support Ukraine in defending themselves.”

Obama is reconsidering his opposition to giving Ukraine defensive weapons and other lethal aid to help its struggling military repel Russian-backed rebels in the eastern part of the country. The proposal has strong support from many in Obama’s national security team, but it would mark a possible escalation in the standoff with Russia, which the West accuses of sending tanks and troops into the rebel-held east.

Carter made the comment under questioning by Sen. John McCain, R-Az., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a hawkish advocate of stronger U.S. action in Ukraine.

McCain also pressed Carter on his recommendations for combating the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which the U.S. has led airstrikes against as part of an international coalition in recent months.

Carter said Wednesday that he considered ISIL, along with Iran, to be the two biggest threats to U.S. security.

But did not provide much detail on another area of U.S. concern overseas,  Syria.

He initially opposed Obama’s policy of arming the “moderate” rebels in Syria as a means of pressuring both the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and ISIL, which has taken over vast swathes of the country.

Carter, formerly a top Pentagon official, has twice been confirmed unanimously by the Senate for Defense Department posts. He is expected to face minimal opposition in his bid to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Wire services

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