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Her first trip as undersecretary was marred by a string of critical articles in the U.S. and Arab press.

Some reporters ridiculed her then-limited knowledge of foreign affairs. Others mocked references in her public remarks to her religious faith and personal experiences as a mother.

As she traveled from Egypt to Saudi Arabia to Turkey during what she called a “listening tour,” she sought to connect to her mostly female audiences on a personal level.

But her hosts would have none of it. They wanted to talk about Iraq and the Palestinians.

“Some of the meetings turned into U.S.-bashing sessions as audience members, including women whom Hughes was making a special effort to woo, said they did not accept the Bush administration’s values,” wrote the Turkish Daily News.

The Indian Express suggested that Mrs. Hughes “should be careful not to let the ruling elites of the Muslim world control her understanding of their people and their views of the United States.”

Since then, Mrs. Hughes has traveled extensively around the world, but on commercial jets and without American reporters in tow. She has since learned the nuances of U.S. foreign policy and can hold her own when temperatures rise, State Department officials say.

Mrs. Hughes also has the ear of Mr. Bush and shares her experiences of traveling abroad. That, in turn, may have influenced the president to lend a more sympathetic ear to other countries’ grievances and viewpoints, officials say.

“Witnessing the intensity of some of the negative views is difficult,” Mrs. Hughes said. “Generally, after a big trip, I go and share with the president my impressions.”

Skeptics at State

Before Mrs. Hughes took office, she went to see former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who was skeptical of the effort to remake public diplomacy, sources familiar with the conversation said.

In the four years Mr. Powell served as secretary, three different persons occupied Mrs. Hughes‘ position, separated by periods when the post was vacant.

His former aides say that given the administration’s lack of interest in foreign public opinion during Mr. Bush’s first term, Mr. Powell decided it wasn’t wise to expend too many resources.

Mrs. Hughes took a different approach.

“I agree that there is concern about policy,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that we can’t forge common interests and values, or that we shouldn’t invite people to come and see what America is like.”

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