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US Public Diplomacy Chief Prepares to Launch New Program

The State Department's new public diplomacy chief, Karen Hughes, is preparing to launch a campaign aimed at improving the U.S. public image abroad. It will include a new approach to observing the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States.

Officials here say Ms. Hughes has sent a cable to U.S. ambassadors abroad urging them to mark the 9/11 anniversary in ways that demonstrate that terrorism is not just a challenge faced by the United States.

The instructions from the State Department's new Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy are an early indication of how Ms. Hughes, a former top aide to President Bush, intends to try to repair the United States' sagging image around the world, especially in Islamic countries.

In interview remarks published Thursday, Ms. Hughes said she suggested, for example, that the U.S. ambassador to Egypt visit the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh on the upcoming anniversary, where terrorist bombs killed more than 60 people in late July.

She said that in her cable to embassies, she also urged U.S. diplomatic missions to bring together religious leaders for inter-faith dialogue.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the 9/11 outreach will be a way to underline that the United States, which lost nearly 3,000 people in the 2001 attacks, stands with and remember the sacrifices of other countries which have lost innocent lives to terrorism:

"What this is meant to show is that we are all in this fight against terrorism together," he said. "Terrorism doesn't respect boundaries. It doesn't respect religion, it doesn't respect political ideology. This is a fight against extremism, a relatively small group of people dedicated to the use of violence to achieve their ends."

Mr. McCormack said Ms. Hughes will outline her strategy for the new post in town hall meeting with State Department employees on Thursday of next week, joined by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Details of the program have not been released. But it is understood to include plans for rapid response teams able to quickly counter misinformation about U.S. policies carried by foreign news media, including Arab TV news channels.

The New York Times said Thursday this would include more frequent appearances by Bush administration figures on the influential Al-Jazeera network, which has been a harsh critic of U.S. policies.

The Times quoted Ms. Hughes as saying U.S. officials need to convey their message through the media that people are listening to, so they clearly must be more effective in communicating on Al-Jazeera.

Spokesman McCormack said Ms. Hughes, in office only three weeks, has met with among others, Muslim clerics and students, and with members of Djerejian Commission, a panel of experts that issued a report to Congress last October sharply critical of U.S. public diplomacy efforts.

Headed by former Assistant Secretary of State Edward Djerejian, the commission said U.S. public diplomacy was absurdly under-funded. It said that since the end of the Cold War, a process of unilateral disarmament in U.S. advocacy programs had contributed to widespread hostility toward Americans.

Ms. Hughes, who was White House Counselor during Mr. Bush's first term, briefed the president on her plans several days ago in Texas.

The public diplomacy job at the State Department had been vacant for more than a year before Ms. Hughes assumed the post last month.

The undersecretary oversees State Department public information, cultural and exchange programs with a budget this year of more than $300 million.