State Department says US image push is far from over

WASHINGTON - The State Department's public affairs division has gone on the offensive to combat reports that its Shared Values initiative was faltering after the disappearance of its centerpiece, a $15m (£9.2m) advertising campaign.

The spots, which had aired in several Arab countries and were intended to help ease anti-American sentiment, featured Muslim Americans talking about their positive experiences living in the US. The reports, used as the basis for articles in several outlets, including the January 20 issue of PRWeek, claimed that the commercials had been pulled in favor of pursuing more traditional diplomatic efforts.

A State Department spokesman confirmed that the ads had been pulled from the air in December, but said the spots were only intended to run during the month of Ramadan, and were completely successful.

According to several State Department sources, including press secretary Richard Boucher, the commercials are now being rescripted in order to remove references to Ramadan and possibly 'extend their use' beyond the handful of Arab countries where they had been airing since October.

The commercials are part of the the post-September-11 street-level diplomacy campaign known collectively as Shared Values.

Undersecretary for public diplomacy Charlotte Beers, the driving force behind Shared Values, told PBS' Jim Lehrer that the real impact of the commercials will come later, when Muslim Americans starring in the ads will visit the regions in which the ads aired, where they will be available for questions and answers.

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