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Pollster Says Arab Views of US  Affected More by Policy than Culture

The president and chief executive officer of the Zogby International polling organization, John Zogby, says the American image in the Arab world remains dismal - largely because of U.S. policy towards the region. The pollster believes there are ways the United States can improve its image among Arabs.

Speaking at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, John Zogby said many Arabs continue to "love Americans, but hate American policy." But, he says his most recent polling efforts in the region indicate that the negative view of U.S. policy could also be affecting attitudes about the country in general.

Speaking to VOA, Mr. Zogby said the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have damaged the U.S. image among Arabs.

"There has been a decline, since 2002, in Arab public attitudes towards the United States, in general, and towards aspects of the United States. There has been a slight rebound in 2004 from 2003 and, of course, we have not polled since the events in Iraq [the election and subsequent moves to establish a government] and the Palestinian elections and so on, but I suspect that there is still a lot of anger," he said.

Mr. Zogby, whose parents immigrated from Lebanon, has conducted polls in several Middle Eastern nations in recent years, including Saudi Arabia, which he says is growing more open to polling and other practices that are common in democratic societies. He says his polling there showed that people who had been to the United States, who had a relative living in the United States or who had had some other contact with Americans were more inclined to have positive views of the country.

While acknowledging the need to protect the United States from terrorists, Mr. Zogby says reducing the number of visitors from Arab countries could lead to what he called "missed opportunities."

President Bush recently moved to improve the American image abroad, especially in the Middle East, by appointing former White House Counselor Karen Hughes to head the office of Public Diplomacy at the State Department. Mr. Zogby says the fact that Ms. Hughes is one of the president's closest personal friends and trusted advisors shows his determination to address the issue.

"I think it is a very serious effort and I think just naming Karen Hughes suggests that it is a strong commitment. In the early phases of it, it looks like she really is making a serious effort to reach out and to hear some different voices, but she has an enormous task," he said.

In her office at the State Department, Karen Hughes is developing strategies to promote American values such as democracy, tolerance and pluralism in the rest of the world. Mr. Zogby says many Arabs have a positive attitude towards American ideals and culture. However, he says overall attitudes towards the United States are still shaped largely by reactions to American policy towards the Palestinians and Israel.