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U.S. Taps Envoy For Muslim Outreach Without Fanfare

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The U.S. State Department has picked an official to help carry out President Barack Obama's strategy of reaching out to Muslims around the world -- but chose not to formally announce the fact.

The choice of Farah Pandith to serve as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's "special representative to Muslim communities" was disclosed in an internal memo to State Department employees dated June 23.

Asked about news reports of the appointment, the department spokesman, Ian Kelly, confirmed it.

Obama has made improving U.S. relations with Muslims around the world a signature theme of his presidency.

Asked why the State Department had not formally announced Pandith's appointment, Kelly noted it had been disclosed in an internal memo.

When a reporter suggested there might be broader interest in the fact among Muslims worldwide, he replied, "Fair point."

Kelly said he could not say whether Pandith was a Muslim, although two U.S. officials said privately that they believed she was. Pandith was not immediately available for comment.

Since the September 2001 attacks, the U.S. government has labored to improve its image with Muslims abroad.

Former President George W. Bush named one of his closest aides, Karen Hughes, to be the State Department's top public diplomacy official with a mission to engage Muslims and to combat negative views of the United States abroad.