The U.S. public diplomacy team is starting to take shape. Dina Habib Powell, a former White House personnel director, was sworn in Monday as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs. Powell is expected to be a major player in yet another major effort to improve the U.S. image abroad.

Former White House counselor Karen P. Hughes is coming back to town for a hearing Friday on her nomination to be undersecretary of state for public diplomacy.

The hope is that this duo will finally kick-start the diplomatic marketing effort -- which everyone from Vice President Cheney on down agrees is in need of a serious overhaul.

And maybe just to smooth the way for the new team, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) has stirred up a bit of a fuss in the Muslim world with his musings last week about nuking Mecca.

The lawmaker, on a radio talk show Friday, was asked how this country might respond if terrorists used nuclear weapons on American cities.

"Well," Tancredo said, "what if you said something like -- if this happens in the United States and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites."

"You're talking about bombing Mecca," talk show host Pat Campbell said.

"Yeah," Tancredo said, saying, "I'm just throwing out there some ideas" and "talking about the most draconian measures" in response to such a threat. "Other than that, all you could do was tighten up internally," he said.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee called on Tancredo to back off the "damaging and irrational rhetoric," noting that he had just last week ripped into a senior Chinese government official for threatening to use nuclear weapons if Washington gets too in-its-face on Taiwan.

"For a senior government official to exhibit such tremendous stupidity by making such a brazen threat," Tancredo said of China, "is hardly characteristic of a modern nation."

Well, he got that right.

Yesterday, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli was asked by a reporter if he wanted to "weigh in" on Tancredo's reflections. "I guess we periodically see remarks or comments that are insulting to Islam," Ereli said. "And such remarks, wherever they come from, are insulting and offensive to all of us."

"Speaking on behalf of the United States government, let me say that we respect Islam as a religion, we respect its holy sites and we . . . respect the dignity and sanctity of other religions."

Just Dessert

Raghubir Goyal, White House correspondent for India Globe and Asia Today, made the guest list at the White House dinner for India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh.

Goyal has for years bailed out White House press secretaries -- especially Scott McClellan of late. Whenever reporters began roughing them up, the spokesmen called on Goyal, who then asked something about India and Pakistan. "Go to Goyal," as Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart acknowledged, was the key safety play.

Missing: Nine Digits

Speaking of reporters in the briefing room, Sam Coates, a young British reporter on a three-month fellowship here at The Washington Post, has been trying to get into the White House press briefing room. He's been rebuffed, however, because security folks need a Social Security number -- in addition to the stringent checks he had to undergo to get into the country. Being a Brit, he doesn't have a number. No number, no entrance -- unless he were accompanied at all times by a "minder."

So much for the "special relationship" with Britain. And, oddly enough, Coates works for the Times of London, which happens to be owned by Rupert Murdoch, owner of, among many other things, administration-friendly Fox News.

Of course Murdoch also owns the Sunday Times, which broke the story of the Downing Street Memo. Hey, not Coates's fault.

Legal Brawn

Robert F. Hoyt, a Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr partner, has joined the White House counsel's office as an associate counsel. No word yet on his portfolio, but Hoyt was the vice chairman of his firm's powerhouse securities department for a time and served on the firm's management committee. So chatter is that it's unlikely that he would leave for or be recruited for an associate counsel job unless the White House expects to be playing some serious defense in the coming months on the investigations front.

Timken to Get Bearings in Berlin

It's official . . . William R. Timken Jr., chairman of the roller-bearing Timken Co. in Canton, Ohio, and a mega-fundraising "Ranger," is the pick to be ambassador to Germany. The company became an issue in the last campaign after President Bush appeared at a Timken plant there shortly before Timken decided to close three plants -- sparking a wag to dub the campaign stop Potimken Village. The company is headquartered in Stark County, the only Ohio county Bush won in 2000 but lost in 2004. Bush apparently didn't fault Timken.

Another Powell, Another Successor

Job seekers take note! Liza Wright, who's been working in the White House personnel shop since 2003 and before that worked in an executive search company, is moving up to replace Dina Powell as head of personnel.