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Report Faults, US Official Defends, Public Diplomacy Efforts


A report says U.S. government public diplomacy efforts, including steps to improve the U.S. image in the Muslim world, are not working. The issue was discussed at a congressional hearing where the top U.S. public diplomacy official testified about progress in communicating American values and policies since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Karen Hughes, longtime friend and advisor to President Bush, was appointed Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy last year.

She used her appearance before a House Appropriations Subcommittee Wednesday to reiterate core Bush administration strategies as the U.S. attempts to counter negative images of America in the Muslim world.

"We face no more important challenge for America's national security, and for the future of our children and all the world's children, than to reach out to the rest of the world and foster a sense of common interests and common values," she said.

However, the administration's strategies are criticized in a new report compiled by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress.

The report says that, while public diplomacy resources have shifted to the Muslim world since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a range of problems hinder U.S. outreach abroad.

"The State Department currently does not have a strategy that integrates the diverse public diplomacy activities. And the efforts that effectively engage the private sector have met with mixed success," said Jess Ford of the GAO.

Public diplomacy strategy, planning and coordination are described by the report as inadequate. The document says the lack of a public diplomacy strategy complicates the task of conveying consistent messages.

Among what it calls multiple challenges, the GAO mentions staffing shortages, and the fact that 30 percent of public diplomacy positions in the Muslim world are held by persons lacking sufficient language skills.

Security threats also limit the ability of U.S. diplomats and other officials to reach out to people in some foreign countries.

Undersecretary Hughes says efforts are under way to expand exchange programs, with more money requested for 2007, recruit and assign more public diplomacy specialists, and improve language proficiency.

Among other things, U.S. ambassadors, diplomats and other officials are now being tasked with appearing on Muslim and Arab world media to respond on key policy issues, efforts Hughes says have come a long way.

Addressing the G.A.O. findings, Hughes says a new inter-agency coordination committee will work to address deficiencies, amid other steps aimed broadly at de-legitimizing terrorism, and shifting the struggle for freedom to new regions of the world.

Written testimony from Hughes mentioned the Bush administration request for $75 million for programs supporting democracy and human rights in Iran, including the expansion of Farsi-language Internet and television broadcasting.