Charles Freeman, the U.S. official tapped as President Barack Obama's choice to head the National Intelligence Council, slammed the Israel "lobby" Wednesday after withdrawing his candidacy for the post.
Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and top diplomat in China, has come under fire in recent days for his alleged ties to Saudi money, criticism of Israeli policies and comments on China's Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.
"I regret that my willingness to serve the new administration has ended by casting doubt on its ability to consider, let alone decide what policies might best serve the interests of the United States rather than those of a lobby intent on enforcing the will and interests of a foreign government," Freeman said in a statement to the American magazine Foreign Policy.
Freeman's withdrawal was announced in Washington by Dennis Blair, the director of National Intelligence. Since news of Freeman's nomination, Jewish organizations have leveled criticism at the pick due to his history of opposition to Israel policy regarding the Palestinians.
He is quoted as saying in 2007 that "The brutal oppression of the Palestinians by Israeli occupation shows no sign of ending," and "American identification with Israel has become total."
Freeman's professional ties had also come under scrutiny from critics. He had served on the board of the China National Offshore Oil Co. and as president of the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington think tank funded at least in part by Saudi Arabia.
Freeman told Foreign Policy that, "The outrageous agitation that followed the leak of my pending appointment will be seen by many to raise serious questions about whether the Obama administration will be able to make its own decisions about the Middle East and related issues."
Freeman's withdrawal came just hours after Blair defended him in Congress as a man of "strong views, of an inventive mind and the analytical point of view."
"I think I can do a better job if I'm getting strong analytical viewpoints to sort out and pass on to you and to the president than if I am getting pre-cooked pablum judgments that don't really challenge," Blair told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier on Tuesday.
The intelligence council that Freeman had been picked to head prepares the formal assessments by U.S. intelligence agencies of major issues such as Iran's nuclear capability.
The council also produced a controversial, and inaccurate, prewar assessment in 2002 that Iraq was continuing its weapons of mass destruction programs. Former President George W. Bush's main justification for the U.S.-led war he launched in 2003 was the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
The National Intelligence Council position does not require Senate confirmation.
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