- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Karen Hughes, who led efforts to improve the U.S. image abroad and was one of President Bush’s last remaining advisers from the close circle of Texas aides, will leave the government at the end of the year.

Mrs. Hughes said she plans to quit her job as undersecretary of state and return to Texas, although improving the world’s view of the United States is a “long-term challenge” that will outlast her.

“This will take a number of years,” Mrs. Hughes told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said Mrs. Hughes told Mr. Bush — her “very, very close friend” — as far back as the summer that she would need to be back home in Texas by the end of the year. The president was sad to hear the news but understood, Mrs. Perino said.

She praised Mrs. Hughes’ performance, despite persistently low opinions of the United States globally, particularly in the Muslim countries where she was supposed to concentrate her efforts.

“She has done quite a great job of transforming public diplomacy at the State Department and established new initiatives and programs that will serve us well after she’s gone,” Mrs. Perino said of Mrs. Hughes. “We are making progress. I know that we have a long way to go.”

Announcing Mrs. Hughes’ decision to leave the department in mid-December, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she had accepted the resignation “with a great deal of sadness but also a great deal of happiness for what she has achieved” and with the understanding that she would continue to work on several projects.

Mr. Bush and Miss Rice picked Mrs. Hughes two years ago to retool the way the United States sells its policies, ideals and views overseas. A former television reporter, Mrs. Hughes has focused on changing the way the United States engages and responds to criticism or misinformation in the Muslim world.

Heading the broad category of U.S. outreach known as public diplomacy, Mrs. Hughes sent Arabic speakers to do four times as many interviews with Arabic press and television as in previous years and set up three rapid public-relations response centers overseas to monitor and respond to the news. She also sent abroad U.S. sports stars Michelle Kwan and Cal Ripken Jr. as unofficial diplomats.

Polls show no improvement in the world’s view of the U.S. since Mrs. Hughes took the post. A Pew Research Center survey earlier said the unpopular Iraq war is a persistent drag on the U.S. image and has helped push favorable opinion of the United States in Muslim Indonesia, for example, from 75 percent in 2000 to 30 percent last year.

This is Mrs. Hughes’ second departure from the Bush administration. She was among Mr. Bush’s closest confidantes during his first term before leaving the White House in 2002. She never fully left Mr. Bush’s employ, serving as an off-site strategist and adviser until she returned to Washington to take the State Department job in 2005.

Mrs. Hughes had been splitting her time between Texas and Washington.

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