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Rice says goodbye to Hughes

From NBC's Libby Leist
Secretary Condoleezza Rice said goodbye to Karen Hughes this morning at the State Department, ending Hughes' two-and-a-half years in charge of America's public diplomacy. Hughes will officially be off the job in mid-December.

While Hughes' record as head of public diplomacy is very mixed -- her aides insist this decision is not about any disagreement with Rice or the White House -- rather Hughes wants to return to her husband and her family, who she has been regularly commuting to see in Texas. Rice and Hughes are very close, and Hughes still advises Bush, aides say.

Rice told the assembled State Department staff that Hughes carried out her public diplomacy work in "spectacular fashion." She listed her efforts toward Muslim outreach and other public diplomacy programs like a rapid response unit to counter negative stories about America and setting up regional media hubs around the world that deployed Foreign Service officers into local communities, as successes.

Hughes called Rice "a great friend" and "a great role model," and she said, "I feel that I've done what Secretary Rice and President Bush asked me to do by transforming public diplomacy and making it a national security priority central to everything we do in government."

Hughes has remained largely behind the scenes after her first high-profile inaugural trip to the Middle East in 2005, dubbed as a "listening tour." With 16 reporters in tow, Hughes was caught off guard at nearly every city stop. She was attacked about the Iraq war by Turkish women leaders; she caused controversy in Saudi Arabia by saying women should have the right to drive and "fully participate in society;" and she was shaky in press briefings about Middle East issues.

Since then Hughes has worked to institutionalize public diplomacy programs in the government, more so than serving as America's face to the Muslim world.