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Susan Walsh, Associated Press
Ashton Carter, President Barack Obama's choice to head the Defense Department, sits down on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015, prior to testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to replace Chuck Hagel. Carter, who previously served as the No. 2 Pentagon official, is expected to easily win Senate confirmation but will face tough questions about Iraq and other issues.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's pick to run the Pentagon says he's inclined to back increased U.S. assistance to Ukraine — including lethal arms — to fight against Russian-backed anti-government rebels.

Ashton Carter said Wednesday at his confirmation hearing that he leans toward advocating sending weapons to Ukraine.

President Barack 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, in a possible escalation that has had strong support from many in Obama's national security team.

Carter made the comment under questioning by Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.