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Hughes to Get Easy Ride to State Dept. Post

A scaled-back Senate Foreign Relations Committee showered praise Friday on Karen Hughes (search) and put the former political adviser to President Bush on a fast track to confirmation as the State Department's top public relations official.

Only two senators attended the hearing. In the absence of votes in Congress on Fridays, most lawmakers leave early for the weekend.

The session barely delved into what Hughes will do about turning around anti-American sentiment in the world, part of her job if she is confirmed as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

Hughes said her challenge is "the urgent need to foster greater understanding, more respect and a sense of common ideals among Americans and people of different countries, cultures and faiths around the world."

"If I had the opportunity to say just one thing to people throughout the world, it would be, I am eager to listen," Hughes said. "I want to learn more about you and your lives, what you believe, what you fear, what you dream, what you value most."

There was no direct mention in her statement of the onslaught of Muslim fundamentalism (search) that confronts the United States and other Western countries, although Hughes quoted the statement British Prime Minister Tony Blair's (search) made condemning of barbaric acts and ideas after the London bombings.

Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said "virulent anti-American hatred in the Islamic world" is a security concern.

"In an era when allied cooperation is essential in the war against terrorism, negative public opinion overseas has enormous consequences," he said.

"Somehow we have got to change people's heads and their minds," said Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio.

Lugar read a statement of support from the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Joseph R. Biden of Delaware.

The committee plans to meet Tuesday and send the nomination to the Senate for expected easy approval of Hughes, who helped craft Bush's policies before leaving her high-profile White House job in 2002 to return to her family in Austin, Tex.

Hughes said she would travel extensively and create more public diplomacy posts in the State Department to tell "people around the world about what we are doing to try to improve their daily lives."

She also proposed an "interfaith dialogue" in the United States as well as abroad, saying views of Muslims in the country who are against violence should be given more attention.

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