President Obama has defended Chuck Hagel, praising the man reportedly under consideration to be the next US defence secretary, despite his previous anti-gay comments.

The Republican former US senator recently has come under criticism from LGBT campaigners for comments he made in 1998, when he described ex-US Ambassador to Luxembourg, James Hormel, as “aggressively gay”.

Mr Hagel, previously a strong supporter of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; the ban on openly gay people serving in the US military, apologised for the comments earlier this month.

However, Mr Hormel suggested the apology lacked sincerity and was simply a way of trying to bolster his nomination as the next secretary of defence.

Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, President Obama said: “I’ve served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot. He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate.

“Somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam. And is somebody who’s currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job.”

In reference to Mr Hagel’s anti-gay remarks, President Obama went on to say:

“He apologised for it. And I think it’s a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people’s attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country.

“And that’s something that I’m very proud to have led. And I think that anybody who serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues.”