Page last updated at 20:07 GMT, Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Israel row derails Obama nominee

Charles Freeman (Picture: Middle East Policy Council)
Mr Freeman served as the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia

The Obama administration's candidate for a top US intelligence post has withdrawn, after his past criticism of Israel came under heavy fire.

Charles Freeman had been named to head the National Intelligence Council, which produces security assessments.

But his comments about Israel, as well as links to China and Saudi Arabia, had enraged dozens of US lawmakers.

Mr Freeman said he did not think the council could work effectively "while its chair was under constant attack".

It is the latest embarrassment for President Barack Obama, who has seen a number of appointees withdraw or forced out.

Some observers are interpreting it as a test case of the Obama administration's willingness to stand up to powerful pro-Israeli forces in US politics.

'Strong views'

National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair - who originally selected Mr Freeman for the post - said he was accepting his resignation "with regret".

The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonour and indecency
Charles Freeman
Only hours earlier he had been defending him as a "person of strong views, of an inventive mind and the analytical point of view", which Mr Blair said he preferred to "pre-cooked" judgements.

Mr Freeman has served as a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a senior diplomat in China and an assistant secretary of defence.

His background and past statements had caused dozens of members of Congress - mainly Republican - to question his appointment.

Among their stated concerns were:

  • Remarks attributed to Mr Freeman in 2007, in which he said: "The brutal oppression of the Palestinians by Israeli occupation shows no signs of ending," and "American identification with Israel has become total"
  • His position on the international advisory board of a Chinese state-owned oil company
  • His presidency of the Middle East Policy Council, a think-tank that received funding from Saudi Arabia.

On Monday, all seven members of the Senate Intelligence Committee sent a letter to Mr Blair expressing consternation about his appointment.

They joined a chorus of complaint from members of the House of Representatives.

Several of them applauded his withdrawal, including Democratic Senator Charles Schumer.

"Charles Freeman was the wrong guy for this position. His statements against Israel were way over the top and severely out of step with the administration," he said in a statement.

'Libellous distortions'

In a message posted on the website of Foreign Policy magazine, Mr Freeman said he believed the "barrage of libellous distortions of my record would not cease upon my entry into office...

"I do not believe the National Intelligence Council could function effectively while its chair was under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country".

He said the incident showed "Americans cannot any longer conduct a serious public discussion or exercise independent judgment about matters of great importance".

And he blamed the campaign against him on the "Israel Lobby", which he said used tactics which "plumb the depths of dishonour and indecency".

The NIC releases influential annual national intelligence assessments, supposed to reflect the consensus of multiple different US intelligence agencies.

But they are not always without controversy - such as a 2002 assessment which concluded that Iraq was continuing to produce weapons of mass destruction, and which helped the Bush administration justify the case for war.

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Washington Post Freeman Blames 'Israel Lobby' - 22 hrs ago
CBS News Ex-Intel Pick Lashes Out At "Israel Lobby" - 26 hrs ago
Christian Science Monitor Did 'Israel lobby' block Obama's pick for intelligence czar? - 27 hrs ago
Haaretz U.S. official slams Israel 'lobby' after withdrawing from top intel post - 28 hrs ago
Los Angeles Times An open debate on Israel - 35 hrs ago

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific