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Hughes says Bush Mideast policy not affecting public diplomacy mission

Hughes says Bush Mideast policy not affecting public diplomacy mission

WASHINGTON, Nov 10 (KUNA) -- Newly assigned Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes brushed off criticism that the highly criticized Bush policy in the Middle East will affect her work to change the US image in the region.

Testifying before the House of Representatives International Relations Committee on Wednesday, Hughes, a longtime confidant to the president, defended the Bush Administration vehemently in response to comments by some members of Congress that suggested scandals surrounding possible torture by US interrogators are impacting perceptions about the United States abroad.

Hughes said the United States treats detainees humanely and in compliance with US laws and values.

"We were sickened as the rest of the world was by the pictures from Abu Ghraib," said Hughes.

"Democracies are not perfect, but we do hold people responsible," she said, referring to the reprimands issued to some of the interrogators at the prison.

She described her mission as the head of US public diplomacy as a "contest of ideas and values" between the United States and anti-Americanism. Hughes, who is working with a 670 million dollar budget for 2005, stressed that the United States has an obligation to offer a positive vision of hope and freedom.

"People are suspicious of words and want to see actions," she said.

She said that during her trip to the Middle East recently, which was dubbed by the State Department as a "listening tour," people told her that the United States favors Israel over Palestinians.

To counter that, Hughes suggested that more US officials make appearances on Al-Jazeera, for example, and for the State Department to make more of a presence in the Middle East beyond just its embassies for greater outreach.

Ranking member on the committee, Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos of California, told Hughes that her success in improving the suffering US image abroad will be a success for the entire country.

"But an ideological approach to public diplomacy surely will not fly," said Lantos, taking a jab at the Bush Administration.

According to Republican Congressman James Leach of Iowa, a military overstay in Iraq could produce catastrophic consequences for the United States and its image in the region. There is no substitute for good policy," he said, adding that "a fundamental element of public diplomacy is diplomacy." The congressmen and women that were seemingly opposed to the Bush Administrations polices in the Middle East echoed one another, saying that if the United States wants to spread American values it should practice them first.

"It is not going to be easy to clean up after the elephants," said Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman of New York.

"I am one who believes our image is directly linked to our policies," he told Hughes. Another issue discussed at a following hearing was the effectiveness of the US government funded Al-Hurra, or the "free one," television station launched a year and half ago with the aim of improving the US image in the Middle East through news programs. The station, with an annual budget of around 70 million dollars, has been accused of inflating its viewership numbers and top employees at the station may come under investigation for money corruption. Massachusetts Democrat Bill Delahunt told KUNA on the sidelines of the hearing that Congress should follow-up with its own hearing if a report from the State Department special investigator turns up evidence of corruption at Al-Hurra.

Head of Al-Hurra, Moafac Harb, told the committee that he would welcome any investigation and said the television station is going strong with 20 million viewers.

Members of congress, both Democrat and Republican, agreed that shutting down Al-Hurra, which has been struggling to win credibility in the Arab world was not an option.

Rather, said Congressman Howard Berman, Democrat from California, the issue is how to make Al-Hurra more effective in reaching a broader Middle East audience.

Despite government efforts to win credibility in the Middle East, Andew Kohut of the Pew Research Center testified that "given the magnitude of negative attitudes in the Muslim world" efforts in communication to the region will be "mostly defensive, making the best of a bad situation." (end) ayt.

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