Undersecretary of State Karen P. Hughes's first foray to make friends in Muslim countries started this week with a stop to see Mohammad Sayed Tantawi, a Sunni spiritual leader of the al-Azhar University, who Hughes reportedly hailed as a respected moderate voice.

"I had a wonderful meeting with him," she told reporters in Egypt. "I thanked him because Al-Azhar under his leadership was among the first . . . religious institutions in the world to condemn the September 11 attacks." Tantawi also has said normalization of ties with Israel was theologically acceptable.

In interviews in August on U.S.-funded Alhurra television and on a Lebanese TV station, Tantawi also condemned suicide attacks, such as "when someone blows himself up in a market, a bus, a car with children, women, and peaceful people, who don't participate in wars."

But suicide bombers against U.S. troops? That appears to be a different matter. "I say that a person who blows himself up among an enemy who came to kill me," Tantawi explained, "and I have no way of defending myself except for blowing myself up amongst this enemy who came to kill me and my countrymen, or to attack what is sacred -- in such a case, whoever blows himself up is a martyr."

Now that's a moderate.

Oh, the Chairman Just Said You're a Liar

Once again, another Loop plea: Please, please, be very careful when using the SEND key. Here's a "Dear Colleague" e-mail from House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.). The e-mail, sent by committee aide Jennifer Zuccarelli at 1:42 p.m yesterday to all House members, was about the costs of his bill to "reform" -- enviros say "gut" -- the Endangered Species Act.

The headline? "Don't Buy the Miller/Boehlert LIE."

My, my. Calling Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat, a liar, is one thing. But fellow Republican Sherwood L. Boehlert (N.Y.)?

Fifty-three minutes later an "ERROR and APOLOGY" e-mail came in from Brian J. Kennedy, the committee's communications director, saying the first e-mail was "inadvertently sent" to the whole list -- presumably instead of to a more select group -- and "most certainly should NOT have contained such an inappropriate term in the title. Please accept the apologies" of the communications staff and "disregard the message."

Kennedy was busy yesterday apologizing to those most offended.

A New Job for a Clinton Aide

Former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine B. Bowles, who lost campaigns in 2002 and 2004 to become a U.S. senator from North Carolina, is expected to become the next president of the University of North Carolina system, university officials told the Associated Press yesterday.

A search committee recommended Bowles, a UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus and wealthy investment banker, and the UNC board of governors is expected to endorse him when it meets Monday. Bowles's yearly salary would be $425,000, although officials said he intends to donate $125,000 a year to needy students. Still, he would net nearly twice the salaries of the two Republicans who defeated him: Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr.

Operation Rent-a-Secret

Update on an item two weeks ago about a CIA agent who happened to leave some secret papers in a rental car at Dulles airport. We're told CIA Director Porter J. Goss, at a "town hall" staff meeting at headquarters last week, was asked what would happen to the person who left the documents in the car.

"I thought it was a brilliant deception operation," Goss joked, "and I am still going along on that assumption." He said he did not know the status of any inquiry into that.

Bush May Lose GSA Chief

Increasing buzz around town -- on the Hill and at the General Services Administration -- is that GSA Administrator Stephen A. Perry, who's been in the job since the beginning of the Bush administration, is heading back to Ohio shortly. No confirmation yesterday from GSA.

Absents Make the Heart Grow Fodder

Nothing if not tasteful . . . The venerable Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington's blog -- "delivering news and opinion since May 9, 2005" -- reports that Louisiana state Sen. Craig Romero (R) was in town recently enlisting support for his race against Rep. Charlie Melancon (D).

An information packet he handed out "to special interest groups," the Post said, noted that if Hurricane Katrina's victims do not move back home, the congressional district, once held by former representative W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R), would easily go Republican. Melancon won in 2004 with only 50.2 percent of the vote.

Romero's info packet, which included a handy pie chart -- "3rd District with Katrina Parishes Removed" -- shows the vote would have been 57 to 43 percent Republican. (Of course, that Republican was the very popular Tauzin.)

A Boo-Boo

Some folks follow baseball; others like cartoons. Gen. George W. Casey, testifying yesterday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, according to a transcript: "And I think it was Yogi Bear that said, 'Predictions are hard, especially when you're talking about the future.' "

Actually, Casey correctly cited the famed Yankees catcher Yogi Berra.