Image: President Bush, Karen Hughes
Pablo Martinez Monsivais  /  AP
President Bush, left, kisses Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, right, during a farewell reception for her at the State Department, Wednesday.
updated 12/13/2007 9:23:13 AM ET 2007-12-13T14:23:13

President Bush made an impromptu appearance at the State Department to bid farewell to one of his closest advisers, Karen Hughes, who left a top diplomatic position on Wednesday to return to Texas and private life.

"I wouldn't be standing here without Karen Hughes," Bush said at a lively going-away party for Hughes after he was introduced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who briefly interrupted an interview with The Associated Press to welcome the surprise guest.

"One of her jobs was to teach me how to speak English," Bush joked in a reference to his sometimes inept command of the language, prompting loud laughter and a rejoinder from Hughes.

"How'd I do?" Hughes asked, drawing a look of mock indignation from Bush.

"I'll deliver the punch lines," the president said sternly, adding: "She never was that good at writing jokes."

Bush also took a shot at the State Department and its perceived culture of ingrained diplomatic niceties, saying that he named Hughes to head up the agency's public diplomacy efforts to shake up the system.

"There was no doubt in my mind that she (Hughes) was a change agent and sometimes this building could use change agents," he said. "I'm not saying all of the time, but certainly when it came to making sure that the world knows our intentions and our good hearts."

Hughes announced in October she would be leaving the administration, for a second time, at the end of this year to spend more time with her family. She has worked with Bush since the 1990s, first as director of communications while he was governor of Texas, from 1995 to 2000.

In her speech, Hughes noted to laughter, including from the president, that she had been with Bush for 13 years, "back when the motorcade was one car and he was sometimes driving."

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