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White House office to counter anti-U.S. sentiment

From Kelly Wallace
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House has decided to make permanent an effort that began after the September 11 terrorist attacks, setting up a new public diplomacy office to counter growing anti-American sentiment overseas, the administration said Tuesday.

The new office is to be called the Office of Global Communications," said Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary, at his daily briefing.

"What led to this is the president's belief, as he put it in the State of the Union, that America is such a force for good around the world, and yet we hear messages from other nations that they don't see what the American people see in our country," Fleischer said.

A senior administration official deeply involved in establishing the new office said the White House is realistic about the challenges ahead.

"We have got a 40- or 50-year-old problem," the official said. "It won't be solved overnight. It won't be solved in a matter of years. We have to better coordinate our message."

The official said the primary focal point for the new new office will be getting the U.S. message out in Europe and the Muslim world.

In speeches around the country, President Bush has talked about how the terrorists "hate what we stand for" and how the terrorists don't "understand America."

During a quick stop in Charleston, South Carolina, Monday, Bush said, "These are people that hate freedom. ... And they can't stand the fact that we are tolerant of each other, that we worship freely and speak our minds. They hate that."

The new office, which should be fully up and running this fall, will work closely with the State Department's Office of Public Diplomacy and other agencies, depending on the issue.

"It's a White House coordinating body to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the State Department on this," Fleischer said.

The new office will build on the work of the White House Coalition Information Center, which was set up a short time after the military campaign against Afghanistan began last October and is no longer in operation.

That office, conceived by then-counselor to the president Karen Hughes, was created to respond quickly to accusations coming from Taliban and al Qaeda operatives and to communicate other aspects of the war on terror, such as U.S. efforts to get humanitarian aid to people in need in Afghanistan.

The office included a mini-war room in the White House Eisenhower Executive Office Building, linked with offices in London and Islamabad, so that U.S. and British officials could respond 24 hours a day.

Tucker Eskew, White House media affairs director, played a leading role in the Coalition Information Center and is leading the effort to set up the new office.

"We learned that you don't want to just be reactive ... don't just want to be temporary. ... You want to be thematic and strategic," said a senior aide who is involved with the effort.

The official said the goal is to make this a "permanent part of the White House" so it will last beyond Bush's time in office.

"We have the most powerful megaphone on the face of the planet," the aide said, stressing the goal is to deliver the message as "effectively" overseas as the administration believes it is being delivered in the United States.

The strategy used by the administration during the military campaign against Afghanistan included scheduling U.S. officials -- such as Secretary of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser -- to appear on Arab television networks; having Laura Bush, the first lady, speak out on the plight of women in Afghanistan; and sending out a daily message sheet to all media outlets about all aspects of the U.S.-led campaign against terror.

Other steps the Bush administration has taken to shape the U.S. image abroad include naming, last year, Charlotte Beers as the new undersecretary of public diplomacy and public affairs at the State Department.

Last November, Beers talked about the challenge ahead, saying, "I am very concerned that we get our communications out in full context. We know that in many of the countries where our messages are sent, that often they're distorted, they're one-dimensional or they're simply not heard."

U.S. officials have been working on various media campaigns to try to get the administration's message out.

Still, there continues to be a strong anti-American sentiment in various parts of the world, especially the Middle East, where many people view the United States as being too pro-Israel and not even-handed in its approach to the peace process.




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