- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2005

Karen Hughes, the Bush administration’s top public diplomacy official, yesterday rolled out a “strategic framework” to improve the U.S. image abroad, urging American ambassadors to step up their engagement with foreign audiences.

Mrs. Hughes’ plan focuses on promoting communication and better understanding between ordinary Americans and their peers overseas, as well as enhancing Washington’s ability to respond immediately to “wrong information” in the foreign press.

As the United States is being depicted abroad in the most negative light in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Mrs. Hughes and other State Department officials said U.S. missions abroad have been asked to provide local news outlets with facts about the relief effort on a daily basis.

Mrs. Hughes has been on the job for about a month but will be officially sworn in as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy by President Bush today.

“We’ll create a rapid response unit here at the State Department — it’s already in the works — to monitor media and help us more aggressively respond to rumors, inaccuracies and hate speech,” she said.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said embassies will try “to dispel any sort of myths and rumors out there” about Katrina’s aftermath, such as that the response to the disaster “was based on something along class lines or along racial lines.”

Mrs. Hughes mentioned the Katrina disaster briefly during her town hall meeting with State Department employees, but the plan she presented was largely designed as a response to the September 11 attacks and the Iraq war.

She did not bring up the notion shared by many around the world that the U.S. image is suffering because of the administration’s policies.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, however, alluded to that point of view.

“I know that sometimes it is difficult to see that this is a history that is moving in the right direction, but I think as long as we remain true to our values … that we will one day stand here and see that the world has been transformed, indeed, for the better,” she said.

Mrs. Hughes, whose new motto is “Engage, Exchange, Educate, Empower,” proposed engagement on a more human level based on common values and interests, as well as creating a climate that promotes those values where they do not exist.

“Through the Internet, through videoconferencing, through a citizen ambassador program, we will foster greater communication between foreign publics and the people of America,” she said.

“I plan to travel with citizen ambassadors and create a robust program to help Americans share their unique American stories with appropriate audiences around the world,” she added.

Mrs. Hughes also urged Americans to do more travel and study abroad and said she is working “on a strategic language initiative to make sure that young Americans can communicate with the world.”

She promised to recruit — with Mr. Bush and Miss Rice’s help — “big names” to go as speakers to foreign countries.

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