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Pentagon chief to meet top U.S. business leaders amid Ukraine crisis

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel addresses a news conference during a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Br
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel addresses a news conference during a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Br

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will speak to chief executives of major U.S. companies on Wednesday to explain the Pentagon's 2015 budget proposal and to field possible questions about the economic impact of rising tensions with Russia.

Hagel will address members of the Business Roundtable on Wednesday afternoon, filling in for Vice President Joe Biden who was originally scheduled to speak to the group but is traveling, said Rear Admiral John Kirby, a top Pentagon spokesman.

Kirby said Hagel will discuss the Defense Department's $496 billion budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year and the strategy underlying the plan. He will also make a pitch to the chief executives to hire more military veterans.

Asked whether Hagel would address the subject of rising tensions with Russia following its attempt to annex the Crimean region of Ukraine, Kirby said the defense secretary expected the issue to be raised.

"No doubt in the context of the discussion, current events will come up," he said.

The business group's chief executives are in Washington for a quarterly meeting which is closed to the public and the press, spokeswoman Tita Freeman said, without providing other details.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is also scheduled to address the group on Wednesday, according to his office.

The Washington-based Business Roundtable is an association of chief executives of major U.S. corporations, founded in 1972. Its members include executives from companies with global footprints, from the defense industry and consumer manufacturers to the healthcare and technology sectors.

(Reporting by David Alexander; additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Krista Hughes; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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