State Dept. Names Representative to Muslims

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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. State Department has named its first "Special Representative to Muslim Communities."

Farah Pandith will work to engage with Muslims around the world.

The announcement comes as a controversial American Muslim group prepares to hold its annual conference in Washington this weekend.

President Barack Obama has made outreach to the Muslim world one of the top priorities of his administration. It's Pandith's job to see that his efforts are successful.

The department says she will "engage with Muslims around the world on a people-to-people and organizational level."

Pandith appeared at a press conference Wednesday to discuss her new role, which she says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped to create.

"What she asked me to do is to leverage my experience in Europe and in other parts of the world to think about how we can have the Department work on Muslim engagement in a way that is out of the box," Pandith said.  "(A way) that is innovative, that is dynamic, that works with embassies so that we're getting to know the next generation of thinkers." 
 
Pandith, a Muslim, was born in the Kashmir region of India. Her family immigrated to the U.S. when she was 1 year old. She previously worked for the State Department as a senior advisor on Muslim engagement in Europe and has also worked in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

Pandith says her Muslim background helps her to bring a unique perspective to her new position.

"What I'm trying to do is trying to foster more dialogue," she said. "To find ways to listen where we haven't before and to build opportunities for dialogue." 

In 2005, the Bush administration assigned Karen Hughes to a similar role of conducting outreach to the Muslim world.

But the Obama administration efforts to improve America's relations with the Muslim world have gone much further.

The President's first interview upon taking office was with the Arab network Al-Arabiya. 

His recent speech in Cairo talked of "a new beginning" between the U.S. and Muslims worldwide.
 
To that end, the President has increased aid to Muslim countires.

He has also drawn criticism for his attempts to open a dialogue with terror-sponsoring regimes in Iran and Syria and for calling on Israel to halt all settlement activity.

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