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Public Diplomacy Nominee Vows To Improve US Image

President Bush's nominee to be undersecretary of state for public diplomacy is vowing that, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she would work to foster greater understanding between the United States and the rest of the world.

Karen Hughes, a close adviser to President Bush, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a time when the United States is seeking to improve its tarnished image overseas. "I believe there is no more important challenge for our future than the urgent need to foster greater understanding and more respect, and a sense of common interest and common ideals among Americans and people of different countries, cultures and faiths," she said.

The image of the United States has suffered since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

In a recent survey of countries in the Middle East, Asia and Europe by the nonpartisan Pew Global Attitudes Project, majorities in 10 of 16 countries had an unfavorable view of the United States. The most negative assessments came from Muslim nations, with Jordan at just 21 percent favorable and Turkey and Pakistan at 23 percent.

The study said the ratings, while low, are still better than they were at the start of the war with Iraq.

The survey attributed some of the improvement to U.S. aid to victims of last December's tsunami and President Bush's call for democracy in the Middle East, which have won praise in many countries.

Ms. Hughes says, if confirmed to the new position, she hopes to tell the world about the people of America. "I am eager to share the story of the goodness, decency and compassion of the American people. Our country, while far from perfect, has been a tremendous force for good, liberating millions, while bringing hope and help to countless lives," she said.

At the same time, Ms. Hughes said she is mindful that "before we seek to be understood, we must first work to understand. If I had the opportunity to say just one thing to people throughout the world, it would be, 'I am eager to listen. I want to learn more about you and your lives, what you fear, what you dream, what you believe, what you value most.' Should I be confirmed, I plan to travel and reach out to citizens and leaders of other countries and mobilize our government to do more listening," she said.

Ms. Hughes acknowledges the job will be difficult, saying perceptions do not change quickly or easily.

She said she would work to promote educational and cultural exchanges, and help empower people in developing nations by seeking to increase their participation in civic life and their access to education. She also said she would seek the support of the American private sector, including universities and the travel, film and music industries, in the public diplomacy effort.

Ms. Hughes first worked for Mr. Bush more than a decade ago in his campaign for Texas governor. She served as communications director during his first term at the White House, but left after his re-election campaign to return to her home state of Texas with her family.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Lugar, said Ms. Hughes is the perfect candidate for the job. "I believe she is highly qualified because of her professional background, and importantly, has the full confidence of the president and the secretary of state. She will bring new energy and creativity to our public diplomacy efforts," she said.

Ms. Hughes is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate.