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US State Department Announces Effort to Promote Nation's Image Abroad

  • Jim Fry

The U.S. State Department has announced a new award Wednesday that diplomats hope will encourage non-governmental groups to bolster America's image abroad. The Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Diplomacy will be given each year to a company, university or non-governmental agency. The new effort comes as a worldwide poll shows America's image abroad falling during most of this decade.

In Brazil in November 2005, anti-American protesters burned American flags to welcome President Bush to their country. In Greece, antiwar groups clashed with police last April when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited with her Greek counterpart.

At the State Department in Washington, public relations executives are gathered to give their advice on ways the private sector can help reverse the trend.

Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes says she welcomes reinforcements: "If ever our country needs your advice and communications knowledge and your great skill; if ever there was a time for our country to bring together its very best talent, this is certainly it in the challenging times that we face."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Diplomacy -- naming it she says after the nation's first diplomat dedicated to improving the world.

The purpose is to encourage good works abroad by American companies, universities and non-governmental agencies.

Secretary Rice says, "How you operate in the international arena has a real impact on America's presence in the world. At the same time, your engagement with the world adds another dynamic to how people and countries across the globe learn about America's values."

A Pew Research Center report indicates just how much stature the U.S. has lost even among its western European allies. In 2000, up to eight in 10 Europeans held favorable opinions of the U.S. That's dropped to just over half in Great Britain and under 40 percent in France and elsewhere. In Egypt and the rest of the Middle East, fewer than one third think favorably about America.

A year and a half ago, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright -- citing the study -- blamed the war in Iraq: "The war in Iraq is as unpopular as ever with majorities in ten countries that think the war in Iraq has made the world more dangerous."

But when the U.S. has rendered aid, as the military did two years ago to victims of the tsunami in Indonesia, America's public image briefly improved.

Hughes says America's image abroad is shaped by a complicated tapestry: "It's everything from our exported consumer goods to how Americans act when they travel abroad."

The PR executives will select the ten best ways the private sector can promote understanding and trust. The ten best models could include corporate giving and good works...but are not expected to touch on unpopular American policy such as the war in Iraq.

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