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23 July 2004

Payoff for Public Diplomacy a Long-Term Proposition, Ereli Says

Deputy spokesman says public diplomacy efforts are continuous

U.S. public diplomacy efforts are a continuous activity and "not something that you just turn on and off, " according to the deputy State Department spokesman.

"We are always doing it," Adam Ereli told reporters at the Washington-based Foreign Press Center July 22. But the question is how to carry out effective public diplomacy campaigns, he said, and how to make a difference in a marketplace of competing ideas.

The key is how to "do it in a way that's effective, that matches resources," Ereli responded after a reporter suggested that the concept of public diplomacy was not raised in the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Report issued July 22. Even though the report was not couched in public-diplomacy terms, the deputy spokesman noted that 9/11 Commissioner Lee Hamilton did say at a press conference following the public release of the report that there must be "a better dialogue between the West and the Islamic world."

Ereli also pointed to Hamilton's observation that the battle of ideas that is under way in the world underscores the importance of improving communications between those two worlds. This is, he said, "synonymous with public diplomacy."

The deputy spokesman acknowledges that the twin attacks in New York and Virginia on September 11, 2001, served as "a wakeup call that we had a lot of work to do in combating the noxious influence of extremist ideologies that have proven to be surprisingly attractive to people who are committed to using violence to achieve their ends."

The challenge of effective public diplomacy is "a constantly evolving job," he said, that requires "reaching out, deciding what audiences are you know [appropriate]: we need to hit the messages; work with them."

Measuring public-diplomacy effectiveness is "a long-term issue," according to Ereli. "You don't judge public diplomacy's effectiveness in the span of months or even years," he said. Instead, the deputy spokesman said: "It's a long-term effort whose results you see over the course of generations." It is also a long-term proposition "that we are dedicated to, that we've never lost sight of," he added.

The events of September 11, 2001, have prompted a shift in focus though, he said. "We have dedicated ourselves" to the proposition of cultivating and encouraging "a culture of tolerance ... understanding ... mutual respect, and of freedom and opportunity," Ereli said. It will take time "to see the fruits of that," the deputy spokesman added.

The commission addressed the issue of needing to confront, address and remedy "the hopelessness and the despair that grips a lot of youth in countries that traditionally supply the manpower for terrorist organizations ... that undertake these kinds of very destructive and uncivilized acts," Ereli said.

When asked about the diplomatic ramifications of the commission's 576-page report, the deputy spokesman said, "It's a little bit early to say" what the implications are for foreign relations. But he went on to say "that what you're likely to see is the continuation of a very robust, international, diplomatic effort that focuses on two things: taking the fight to the terrorists and pursuing an aggressive posture to prevent additional attacks as well as trying to ameliorate "some of the root causes of extremism" that typically propel disenfranchised youth "to find solace in extremist ideologies."

As an example, he pointed to G8 efforts through the Broader Middle East Initiative to support nations that are trying to implement needed reforms.

Ereli also said the United States "will continue to be very active in working with allies" such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to take the fight to the terrorists, to deny them safe haven, to pursue, and, ultimately, to capture them.

The deputy spokesman described the 9/11 report as "a very practical, action-oriented document" that is neither polemical nor political. The existence of the report, he said, provides insight into understanding the United States because it highlights the importance of the process of "examination, accountability and transparency" in American society and government. He also pointed out that as the commission sought to ascertain the facts surrounding the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks and to analyze thoroughly the actions that were taken (or not) before drawing its final conclusions. And, Ereli said, the commission's report is noteworthy because two separate administrations, representing two different political parties, cooperated to bring out the truth.

The process reveals a lot about the United States and the role of American government, the deputy spokesman said, because it illustrates "how government should be and can be answerable to its citizens for decisions, for its actions and for its policies, regardless of who's in charge."

The full text of the commission's report may be viewed on the World Wide Web at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/serialset/creports/911.html