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Hughes Defends US Policy in Iraq

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, Karen Hughes, made a stop in Honolulu Wednesday on her way back from what she called a "Listening Tour" of Malaysia and Indonesia. She faces more protests by students on the war in Iraq when she arrived at the University of Hawaii.

Mrs. Hughes assumed her duties as Under Secretary two months ago. Her recent Southeast Asian tour of Muslim nations followed a visit to the Middle East last month as part of the Bush administration efforts to boost the U.S. image abroad.

Mrs. Hughes told reporters highlights of her Indonesian trip included meeting a popular rock star named Donny and touring reconstruction efforts in areas destroyed by last year's tsumani.

She acknowledged she heard opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq when she was in the region.

"What I try to focus on is where we are now in the process," she said. "I pretty much have found universally on my travels that when you focus on where we are now - agree or disagree on the decision to go into Iraq in the first place when you focus on where we are today there's pretty unanimous agreement that what's important now is that we help the Iraqi people succeed in building a united and stable and democratic Iraq."

Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim nation. Mrs. Hughes was asked about reports last week that students from Islamic university were particularly outspoken in their anit-war views.

"Actually it's interesting that what is chooses to be reported.I had a couple of people come up to me after that event and say, 'I didn't agree with anything that was said, I think you're doing absolutely the right thing.' I had a couple of women come up to me afterward, a couple of the students, and say, "We know it's hard, America's pursuing the right policy," so I heard a diversity of opinion," she said.

Secretary Hughes heard a diversity of opinion while in Honolulu as well. Arriving for a greet-and-meet with university students at the East-West Center, located near the University of Hawaii campus, she encountered dozens of protesters. They held signs that read "End the Bush Regime" and "Bring the Troops Home," and shouted to her as she left her vehicle escort to enter the Center.

Professor Noel Kent of the University of Hawaii said if Mrs Hughes is serious about improving America's image abroad, the United States should end the war in Iraq and work toward real peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

"We think this is sort of public relations gambit to convince people that the United States and the Bush regime are really sincere about reaching out to Muslim people," she said. "We think that, you know, this is an attempt to sell the war in Iraq, which at this point is an absolute catastrophe for the United States.

Later, the secretary participated in a press conference after meeting with Hawaii's governor, Republican Linda Lingle, to discuss Hawaii's role in the Asia-Pacific region. A hundred feet away, on the other side of a security fence, more protestors shouted angry chants through a megaphone.

Secretary Hughes interrupted her remarks to smile and say, "Hello citizens!" Turning back to the media, she said she would also report back to the president the need for more cultural exchanges between the United States and Muslim nations.