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Muslims not just concerned about US policy: envoy

The US envoy tasked with reaching out to Muslims around the world said Wednesday she expects to go beyond criticism of Washington's foreign policy, outlining an ambitious program of reconciliation.

world Updated: Jul 02, 2009 10:53 IST

The US envoy tasked with reaching out to Muslims around the world said Wednesday she expects to go beyond criticism of Washington's foreign policy, outlining an ambitious program of reconciliation.

Farah Pandith, in her first press briefing since she was appointed envoy last week, said her previous work in dealing with European Muslims showed the need for dialogue beyond objections against US policy in the Middle East.

"There are going to be a wide range of questions that come up," the Indian-born Muslim American said. "I know that because I did this on the ground in Europe."

"Certainly, foreign policy does come up," she said, "but the vast majority of young Muslims that I met were very interested in thinking about their futures, and thinking about how to participate in their communities, and thinking about what they need to do to engage in building communication with other countries and with themselves and with the United States."

The previous administration of president George W. Bush conducted public diplomacy aimed at boosting the US image among Muslims but it was criticized as ineffective because it failed to change policies hated by Arabs and Muslims.

Pandith stressed both a "nuanced approach" and the importance of listening "respectfully" as she uses the network of US embassies to try to engage with Muslims from Asia to Africa via the Middle East.

"Listening means that you just don't take a one-stop shop and say, 'I'm going to do it everywhere'," Pandith said.

"It's really, really taking the time to listen to what is taking place on the ground, so that you understand, even within cities, what the differences are; even within generations and within ethnicities," she said.

"So that you're beginning to build dialogue in different ways," she said.

She planned to use the US "town-hall" approach in which she would appear at a university or some other forum to answer questions from the audience in events that can be broadcast on television.

In his inauguration speech on January 20, President Barack Obama vowed to seek a "new way forward" with the Muslim world "based on mutual interest and respect," after eight rocky years under Bush.

Pandith said she could not reveal her travel plans yet, but ruled out visiting India later this month with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.