(Adds more details, announcement)
By Sue Pleming
WASHINGTON Oct 31 The U.S. State Department's
public diplomacy chief and image guru Karen Hughes, one of the
last survivors of President George W. Bush's original inner
circle, said on Wednesday she would quit and return to Texas.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Hughes would step
down in mid-December but the former television reporter would
remain a consultant for the State Department.
"She will obviously leave a very big hole and big shoes to
fill," said Rice, with Hughes at her side. "She will remain a
valued adviser to me."
Hughes, who was sworn in as Undersecretary of State for
Public Diplomacy in September 2005, has sought to combat
negative opinions about the United States following the March
2003 invasion of Iraq and its chaotic aftermath.
"I feel that I have done what Secretary Rice and President
Bush asked of me by transforming public diplomacy and making it
a national security priority," Hughes said.
However, opinion polls around the world continue to show
high levels of anti-Americanism, which the Pew Research Center
in Washington says is strongest in the Muslim world.
In five predominantly Muslim countries in the Pew 2006
global study on America's image abroad, fewer than one-third of
those surveyed had a favorable view of the United States.
"Attitudes have grown much more negative in many parts of
the world," said Richard Wike, senior researcher with the Pew
Global Attitudes Project. Public support for the United States
has even declined among allies Germany and Britain.
Hughes had been close to Bush since before he entered
politics by running for Governor of Texas in 1994. Apart from
controversial political advisor Karl Rove, who quit earlier
this year, she was perhaps his most trusted aide. She still
regularly lunches with the president after her trips abroad.
RICE WILL STAY
Rice is one of the few remaining members of Bush's original
team and she has said she plans to stay on until the end of his
term in January, 2000.
Hughes will return to her home in Austin, Texas, where her
husband remained while she took on the State Department job.
She ran communications for Bush's first presidential
election campaign in 2000 and was counselor during his initial
18 months in office before quitting for the first time. She
helped handle communications for Bush's 2004 re-election run.
Hughes is known for her fast-talking, exuberant style, a
characteristic that occasionally backfired, especially in the
She has also sought out cultural and sporting ambassadors
to polish America's image, like baseball legend Cal Ripken and
figure skating star Michelle Kwan.
As public diplomacy chief, Hughes set up rapid-response
units to quickly respond to negative articles and gave
ambassadors and other senior officials the authority to speak
out to change public views about the United States.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed)