Daily Press Briefing - May 23, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

  • IRAN
    • Baghdad Meeting / IAEA Obligations / Sanctions
    • New Sanctions Bill in the Senate
    • Shakeel Afridi Case
    • Iran-Pakistan Pipeline
    • TAPI Pipeline / New Silk Road Initiative
    • Presidential Elections
    • Foreign Operations Related Programs Appropriations Bill
    • Smith-Mundt Modernization Act
    • Presidential Elections
    • Call for Restraint / Respect for Security and Rule of Law
Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 23, 2012


12:57 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Happy Wednesday. I hope you all enjoyed the Law of the Sea testimony, a lot of impassioned arguments about our security and economic and other interests in ratifying the treaty. Let’s go to what’s on your minds.

It’s a free-for-all. I’ve got no front row here. (Laughter.) Said, we missed you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s okay. Any news on the meeting in Baghdad, any latest developments?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that the meetings are ongoing. We had a morning session today in Baghdad, then they took a lunch break. They are now back in for their second session. Our understanding is that at the first session today, the EU3+3 side put forward a detailed proposal which includes confidence-building measures that can pave the way for Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and for it to comply with its UNSC obligations. And then this approach would also include step-by-step reciprocal steps aimed at near-term action on our part if Iran takes its own steps.

So that’s where we are. A proposal has put down. They had a lunch break. They’re continuing to talk about it.

QUESTION: And ideally, from your point of view, it would be an agreement based on that proposal?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, this is a package of first steps, so Iran would take some steps and then we would take some steps. We will see how Iran reacts to that proposal. But as I said, they are in the middle of it now, so I think we will let them finish, and then I’m sure there’ll be some press statements after they’re finished.

QUESTION: And lastly – and again, ideally, the best outcome would be freezing their nuclear program instead of, let’s say – and in return, the sanctions will be frozen as well? So in other words, dealing with the Central Bank and so on will go back to normal?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the details of the proposal that was put on the table today. What we’re looking for at the end of this road is full compliance by Iran with its international obligations and full ability of the IAEA to inspect and verify any obligations that it has undertaken. What we’re talking about in terms of this Baghdad round is a first set of confidence-building steps, so we have to see how that goes.

QUESTION: So you don’t want them to fully comply now?

MS. NULAND: We would love them to fully comply now.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds like that’s not the goal.

MS. NULAND: What we are putting forward is a path to get there. And that – obviously, if they are ready and willing to do more than that, then we are – we would be delighted.

QUESTION: So the only thing that happened today, or so far today, is that you put out – your proposal was laid out; there was no Iranian response. Is that correct?

MS. NULAND: Again, I can’t speak to that because I’m not in the room. So let’s let them continue and we’ll hear what happened all the way through.


QUESTION: Toria, it’s been reported that the Iranians presented some kind of initiative or counterproposal of their own. Without going into any details, can you give us your first impression of that proposal --

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t have anything here at the moment with regard to an Iranian proposal, so we’ll have to let our teams out there brief.

Still on this subject of Iran? Yeah, here.

QUESTION: Given the number of times in the past there have been talks or attempts and they’ve stalled for a variety of reasons, what about this round of negotiations gives you any indication it’ll go better this time?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to evaluate how this round is going in the middle of the round. What we are endeavoring to do is to lay out a path for Iran to demonstrate the peaceful intent. We’ll see how that goes. But as we’ve said consistently, we need concrete actions.

QUESTION: Are those attempts, what you’re putting forward this time, is the approach any different from previous attempts?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve put forward --

QUESTION: Without getting into specifics, of course.

MS. NULAND: Yeah, I think there are some different elements than we’ve had in the past as a result of changing situation on the ground in Iran, et cetera.


QUESTION: Well, wait a minute. You mean the proposal that you put forward is significantly different than the earlier one, or are you saying that things on the ground have changed? In other words, Iran is under this much more – under much more pressure now with the sanctions, so you basically rehashed the same old proposal and said to the Iranians you’d better take this or it’s going to get worse?

MS. NULAND: I understood the question to be: Is this a new proposal or is this your same old proposal from two years ago re-tabled? And the answer is this is a proposal that reflects some initial confidence-building steps that we think match where we are now.

QUESTION: Well – but that doesn’t answer the question, though, because it’s my understanding that it is basically the same old proposal, just put forward now in a different environment or what you think is a different environment, because the Iranians are under a lot more pressure.

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speak to the details. I’m only speaking --

QUESTION: Is it significantly different than what it was the last time around?

MS. NULAND: Again, it is a proposal that matches where we are today. It is not --

QUESTION: But when you say matches where we are today, doesn’t your – to this Administration’s mind, doesn’t that mean that it matches where you are today in terms of the fact that Iran is now feeling the bite from sanctions and is – and should be much more willing to do the things that you want them to?

MS. NULAND: I think there a number of things here. First of all, absolutely, Iran is feeling more bite from the sanctions. We’ve said that. We think – and the Secretary said that – that we believe one of the reasons they’re back at the table is because they feel the bite from the sanctions. I think the other issue here is that we’ve had continuing reports of uranium enrichment to 20 percent, we’ve got more centrifuges turning, all of those things. So all of that has to be taken into account.

QUESTION: But that’s all on the Iranian side.

MS. NULAND: Correct. Correct.


MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: So your proposal hasn’t changed at all, in fact.

MS. NULAND: Matt, again, I’m not going to get into --

QUESTION: It’s the same one that they stuck their nose up to the last time.

MS. NULAND: That is not correct.


MS. NULAND: Goyal.

QUESTION: As far as sanctions against Iran are concerned, and now you are dealing with Iran or negotiating, what message are you sending to the billion-plus Indians who are facing and paying the price because of sanctions against Iran? And India, under pressure, has talked of buying Iranian oil and now 15 to 20 percent higher, like, hike – price rise in India, all over India, in every items, including oil.

MS. NULAND: Well, Goyal, as you know, we are working with countries around the world to encourage them to diversify supply away from Iranian crude. This isn’t just about India. It’s about a whole list of countries who we are trying, in the first instance, to help find alternative sources of supply, to work through what their options might be.

The Secretary spoke to the progress that we are making with India, and so did Carlos Pascual, our special envoy for these things, when he was in India. So this is a – something that all the nations of the world are undertaking together in the context of trying to make these sanctions bite. So it’s a global effort in support of our effort to get Iran to not only come to the table but to act at the table.

QUESTION: Is right now anybody is in touch with the Indian authorities? Because protests are going on inside and outside the parliament, and people are really very angry because of these high rise of prices, especially in oil, on the streets.

MS. NULAND: Well, our Embassy is in constant touch, as you know, and Carlos was just there a week ago.

Josh, still on this subject?



QUESTION: Does the Administration –

MS. NULAND: And welcome. Haven’t seen you in a while.

QUESTION: Thank you. Nice to see you. Does the Administration support the Johnson-Shelby Iran sanctions bill that passed the Senate Monday evening?

MS. NULAND: Well, with regard to the bill, we are talking to the Senate and we’re talking to the Congress in general about what more can be done to tighten the sanctions on Iran. As you know, this is now a draft piece of legislation. It’s passed one house, so I don’t think I’m going to comment on it at the moment. But in general, we share the goals. We are continuing our conversation about additional tools that we can have and work on together.

QUESTION: The State Department has commented on draft legislation before, especially the CBI sanctions. Is this different from that? And you were saying that you generally support the idea of increasing pressure through sanctions as we go through this process of negotiation.

MS. NULAND: Well, we have, all the way through, talked to the Congress extensively about our support for additional sanctions, our support for increasing the pressure, talked about the tools that might be helpful. We talked about this in this context on the Senate side, we’ll talk about it on the House side, and we’ll keep working together on how we can tighten the noose.

Lach, on this subject still?

QUESTION: Yeah. On this subject.


QUESTION: Can you say anything about the incentives you’re offering the Iranians if they do play ball, I mean such as easing access to aircraft spare parts?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think I’m not going to talk about the details of the proposal. We’re going to see how it goes out there, and then I’m sure there’ll be some press briefing out there.


QUESTION: Is it still the plan have only two days of talks in Baghdad?

MS. NULAND: I – well, certainly we committed to talks today. I think there’s a question as to whether there is still business to do on a second day. Presumably, the negotiators will make that call based on how the round today goes.

QUESTION: Toria, on the same issue.


QUESTION: Last week, I think, or a few days ago, the top negotiators for the 2004 negotiations came out and they said that they were that close to signing an agreement and they blamed ill-advised policies apparently in Tehran. Does that give you hope that they actually will accept what was proposed to them back then?

MS. NULAND: I’m sorry. I didn’t see what you’re referring to Said. These were the top American negotiators?

QUESTION: No, no. Top Iranian negotiator, which something that will not come forth unless it is okayed by the supreme leader.

MS. NULAND: Look, I can’t speak to where we were in 2004. I know where we are in 2012, and what we want to see are concrete steps on the Iranian side.

QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, Kayhan, which is really a spokesman for the supreme leader, and its editorial has been saying that any agreement would be a victory for Iran. Does that also give you hope that they are about to agree?

MS. NULAND: Again, words are words, action is action. We need action.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Please. Still on Iran?



QUESTION: Different subject. Pakistan.

QUESTION: Pakistan.

MS. NULAND: Okay. Pakistan.

QUESTION: Do you --

MS. NULAND: Still on Iran. One more on Iran here.


MS. NULAND: Go ahead.

QUESTION: You said, Victoria, that a concrete step are required. If there’s any timetable for those concrete step?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we’re looking for action as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Because Europeans talking about process, and I’m referring as to Lady Ashton, who said this is a process. And the director of IAEA – he’s talking about the time, that it would take time. Do we have an idea – do you have an idea about this time how – what we are talking about now? A year?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t have a crystal ball for this. We have to see how the talks go today. Obviously the sooner Iran can restore the confidence of the international community in its intent, the sooner we can take steps of our own.

Please. Pakistan.

QUESTION: One more on the --

MS. NULAND: Yeah. Go ahead Michel.

QUESTION: There is a story coming from Bloomberg saying that Iran navy helps U.S. ship attacked by pirates. Do you have anything on this?

MS. NULAND: I don’t. That the Iranians and the U.S. together worked on antipiracy effort today? Is that what you’re looking at? I love it when you have the news right when you’re in here that I haven’t seen yet. I don’t have anything on that.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. Thanks.


Please. Pakistan.

QUESTION: Do you have a reaction on Dr. Shakeel Afridi’s sentencing in Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: I didn’t understand you. Say it again, please.

QUESTION: Dr. Shakeel Afridi who helps CIA get the DNA to reach Usama bin Ladin’s compound. He has been sentenced in Pakistan to 33 years in prison. Do you have a reaction to that?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that Secretary Clinton spoke to this issue back in February when she was testifying. Secretary Panetta has spoken to our concerns with regard to this matter. Our views on it haven’t changed. We will – we continue to see no basis for Dr. Afridi to be held.


QUESTION: Do you intend – now that the sentencing has taken place, do you intend to take up this matter with Pakistan?

MS. NULAND: We have regularly taken up this matter with Pakistan. I would expect we will continue to.

QUESTION: Any reaction that you have got from Pakistan? Any positive reaction?

MS. NULAND: I’m going to refer you to the Pakistanis on their reaction.

QUESTION: No. You have taken it up with them. Have they responded to you in a positive manner that they’ll do something?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to leave it to the Pakistanis to characterize their own response.

QUESTION: After this sentencing, have you taken up this case with the Pakistanis?

MS. NULAND: I don’t know whether we’ve taken it up today, but as I said, we have regularly raised it.

QUESTION: Senator McCain and Senator Levin issued a statement today saying that Dr. Afridi be pardoned and released immediately. Do you agree with their views?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think I’ve spoken to where we are on this matter.


QUESTION: One more.


QUESTION: Since he was helping the U.S. on various matters and the CIA, how come you left him to die or to be imprisoned to sentenced by the Pakistanis on treason, on other charges? How come you didn’t give him some kind of protection, or just like the Chinese, Chen – Mr. Chen – just like him, to bring him somewhere, give him some safe haven rather than leaving him behind?

MS. NULAND: I think we’ve said that we don’t see any basis for what’s happened here, and so we will continue to make those representations to the Government of Pakistan.

QUESTION: Do you know when the last time you talked to the Pakistanis about this issue and at what level it was?

MS. NULAND: I don't have it, Cami. I’m sorry.


QUESTION: One more on Pakistan and Iran. The deadline to reduce oil supplies from Iran is coming up in about a month. What progress have you – has the U.S. made with Pakistan in reducing oil supplies or oil purchases or talks on Iran-Pakistan pipeline?

MS. NULAND: Well, we have had regular consultations, both with regard to the pipeline. You know where we are on that one. We don’t think it’s a good idea. We don’t think it’s a reliable route for Pakistan. We’ve also continued to have conversations about diversifying supply and other ways to do that. But I don’t have any particular new news on that one.

QUESTION: And when was the last time you spoke to them about this?

MS. NULAND: About energy in general?

QUESTION: About the pipeline and diversifying oil supplies.

MS. NULAND: We have regular consultations with them on these subjects.


QUESTION: The pipeline (inaudible) of India today signed an agreement with Turkmenistan for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, $7.6 billion. How does the U.S. view this? And how is U.S. going to help these countries to build this pipeline?

MS. NULAND: I think you’re talking about the TAPI pipeline, right?


MS. NULAND: Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India. This is a perfect example of energy diversification, energy integration, done right. We are very strong supporters of the TAPI pipeline. We congratulate the countries that signed it today. We consider it a very positive step forward and sort of a key example of what we’re seeking with our New Silk Road Initiative, which aims at regional integration to lift all boats and create prosperity across the region.

QUESTION: These countries don’t have those technical capabilities to construct those huge pipeline going through these trends. Is the U.S. going to help them out in these technical build up – building these pipelines?

MS. NULAND: I – we have offered to be supportive. I frankly don’t know whether we have commercial involvement in this. But we have been supportive politically, and we stand by to be supportive in other ways if asked.

QUESTION: I’ve got a couple here.


QUESTION: One goes back to the conviction of the doctor.


QUESTION: But just sticking with the pipeline, why is this TAPI pipeline a perfect example of energy integration and diversification and the other pipeline isn’t?

MS. NULAND: Well, the other pipeline, as just to be clear, goes to an unreliable partner who is not complying with its international obligations with Iran. And we’ve been very clear about how we feel and how the international community feels about those kinds of investments. In this case – the case of the TAPI pipeline – you’ve got private sector investment, you’ve got new transit routes, you’ve got people-to-people links, you’ve got increased trade across a region that historically has not been well-linked or there have been historic antipathies which are now being broken down by this positive investment project that’s going to give jobs, it’s going to give more energy, it’s going to give more technology to the people of all of these countries.

QUESTION: And that wouldn’t be the case with the Iranian pipeline?

MS. NULAND: Again, if Iran wants to come back into compliance with its international obligations, the whole picture’s going to look different in terms of the way we feel about investment.

QUESTION: Well, here’s the – I mean, here’s the thing, you don’t like the other pipeline because it has to do – because it has – it involves Iran, right?

MS. NULAND: I think we’ve said that.

QUESTION: That’s it, even though it would bring energy diversification and integration and it would link countries that are historically underserved and haven’t had much cooperation in the past. Even though it does absolutely everything – Iran is an unreliable supplier of oil because you choose to make it an unreliable supplier of oil by – with threats of sanctions and your ally’s threats to attack it, no?

MS. NULAND: Iran has historically been unreliable as a global partner. We have --

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Historically, going back to 1979?

MS. NULAND: Matt, I think we’re absolutely clear about why we oppose the one pipeline and why we are positive on the other pipeline. So if you want to – if you would like to --

QUESTION: Okay. Okay. But historically not been a reliable partner only goes back to 1979, correct?

MS. NULAND: Our concern has to do with investing in a country that is spending – that we have concerns is spending its money not on its people but on dangerous technology and weapons.

QUESTION: Okay. Now on the conviction of the doctor. You seem unwilling to acknowledge the fact that he was convicted. You’re saying that we don’t see any reason for him to be held, we don’t think that --

MS. NULAND: I think you’re over-parsing my words today.

QUESTION: Well, that’s why I’m a little surprised that this guy who was so much help, you’re not being a little bit more strong, a bit more forceful in your condemnation of it. Do you think that this man was guilty of treason?

MS. NULAND: Again, the Secretary spoke to this back in February --


MS. NULAND: -- and Secretary Panetta spoke to it in January.

QUESTION: He hadn’t been convicted then, though.

MS. NULAND: I think we’re absolutely --

QUESTION: It was an ongoing legal process at the time, which you would not want to comment on – or you never want to comment on ongoing legal processes. Well, the legal process is over. He’s been convicted of treason. What does the U.S. think of this?

MS. NULAND: It’s not clear that the legal process is over. Okay? There may be other options for him legally.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just surprised that you are willing to speak out more about Anwar Ibrahim yesterday, who’s just been charged as – and you’re not willing to say anything in defense of this doctor. Is it the judgment of the U.S. that saying something positive or saying something to defend him would actually have the opposite effect?

MS. NULAND: We continue to see no basis for these charges, for him being held, for any of it.

QUESTION: For him being – can you just say, “for him being convicted,” too?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speak to the precise court procedure in the middle of the court procedure.

Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: Can we go back one more on energy? As far as U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Energy Agreement was concerned, is this still going on? Or there are still hurdles?

MS. NULAND: Well, the Secretary spoke to this when we were in Delhi not too long ago. We are working our way through these issues. We are working on some private sector efforts with the Indian Government, and we hope that those will continue.

QUESTION: But what is the major hurdle now stands? Is it India or some companies here or what?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything new on this, Goyal.

QUESTION: It’s been long time now. Indians are asking why they announced it six years ago, and they are still waiting for energy from the U.S.

MS. NULAND: I think we’ve made clear what the hurdles are. We’re trying to work around it. I don’t have anything further to what the Secretary had to say a week and a half ago.


QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you have update on the reopening the supply line in Pakistan to Afghanistan? I mean, I think President Zardari was --

MS. NULAND: On the GLOCs. No.


MS. NULAND: Our negotiators are back at the table, but I don’t have anything new to report.

QUESTION: I missed the top so I guess I must have missed your shout out to the Egyptians on their election, right?

MS. NULAND: I haven’t been asked about Egypt yet. Would you like to ask me about Egypt, Matt? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, I thought that this was a great success, a democratic success story that you would want to talk about even without a question.

MS. NULAND: Well, we’re obviously in the middle of it. It’s a two-day vote today. But today does mark the start of a first round of Egypt’s historic presidential elections. It’s a very important milestone for Egypt’s transition. Egyptians are voting and we look forward to the outcome.


QUESTION: Will you continue to have the same kind of alliance or cordial, friendly relations with Egypt, no matter who the president is?

MS. NULAND: Well, we will work with whomever the Egyptian people elect. I think we have to wait and get the results of those elections. Our understanding is – I don’t know if you’ve seen the ballot. It’s really quite stunning. It’s about this long with many, many candidates. So I think the expectation is that there will be this round and then there may have to be a run-off. So we’ll let that go forward.

QUESTION: And what is your expectation or your reading on this new president’s relationship with the military council? And how will the ease out of power, so to speak?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into what a president who hasn’t yet been elected will do with his or her own folks, okay? Let’s – you’re getting ahead of us, Said.

QUESTION: Let me rephrase my question: Do you expect that the military council will cede power smoothly in the aftermath of the election?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t have a crystal ball, but they’ve said that they will turn over power to a civilian-elected president. That is our expectation, that they will keep their word in that regard.

QUESTION: And you take them at their word, considering that there is very close ties, military-to-military ties between the Pentagon and the Egyptian military?

MS. NULAND: Again, Said, I think we need to let events unfold, but it is our expectation that they will be true to their word, and we’ll have to see how things go.

QUESTION: Madam, do you want to comment anything about U.S.-Pakistan aids? In the Senate they have recommended that aid should be cut or slashed to Pakistan because of maybe the Pakistanis not opening the doors for the U.S. as per NATO, also on other issues of concern between the two countries.

MS. NULAND: Well, I think I said when we spoke about the House appropriation that we weren’t going to get into the details of pieces of this, that we would have to have a Senate action and then we’ll have to have a conference. And we will obviously work consistently with the Congress on our original proposal and to do – to get as much of that as we can.

What I would say, though, is that we were pleased to see the Senate subcommittee act yesterday on the Department of State and Foreign Operations Related Programs FY2013 appropriations bill and to see that the amount that they passed was only 2 percent below the FY2012 level and that it compared very favorably to our request and to the – when you compare it to the deep cut we saw on the House side.

So we’re obviously going to continue to work on all of these things. We were also gratified to see in it full funding of the Arab Spring funds, the Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund. So there is a lot to work on here in this process, as it always does, and the United States will continue for many months to come.


QUESTION: Does the State Department believe that descendants of refugees should enjoy refugee status and therefore be eligible for refugee benefits funded by U.S. taxpayers?

MS. NULAND: That is a new one for me. I mean, the refugee status is not granted by us. It’s granted by the Department of Homeland Security, as you know. So I think it sounds like a question that’s better off --

QUESTION: The money that goes to these organizations comes from the State Department budget, specifically with regard to the United Nations, to UNRWA, which is facing a challenge in the Senate regarding the number of Palestinian refugees and their classification. This is an issue that’s before the Senate this week.

MS. NULAND: Sounds like that’s one I better take, Josh, because it’s got layers and layers, as you phrase it. So why don’t I take it.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me try another one real quick. Does the State Department support the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, as introduced on a bipartisan basis in the House, which would remove restrictions on the BBG and the State Department’s information services and broadcasting domestically?

MS. NULAND: Well, without commenting on the specific piece of legislation and the variants on it that are moving through the Congress, we have long thought that aspects of Smith-Mundt need to be modernized; that in a 24/7 internet age, it’s hard to draw hard lines like the original Smith-Mundt did in the ’40s. So we are continuing to work with the Congress on that, an appropriate modernization in keeping with the times.

QUESTION: And does the State Department have any intent to propagandize American citizens?

MS. NULAND: We do not, and we never have.


QUESTION: This is a question on different election, Mexico.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Yes, and as you know, it’s election season in Mexico. We’re six weeks from the presidential election at this moment, and some voices in Mexico just said that the U.S. is interfering in Mexican politics by filing charges to – against a major figure of the leading political party. These are money laundering charges in federal court in Texas. How do you react to that?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, this is – if I’m understanding the case that you are referring to, this is – these are money laundering charges brought against a foreign citizen who is resident in Texas for activities in Texas. As such, it is a subject for the courts and not something that we would discuss here. But I categorically reject any charges of interference in Mexico’s politics. We are looking for in Mexico what we look for in all cases of democratic elections: free, fair, transparent.

Okay, please.

QUESTION: Lebanon?


QUESTION: I think according to news reports, some of kind of fighting resumed today in Beirut. Were you in touch with the Lebanese Government, or any comment with this respect?

MS. NULAND: We have been in touch with the Government of Lebanon throughout this. Our ambassador has been very much in touch with them. Our understanding is that it was calm overnight but that the environment remains tense there. And as we have all the way through this, we call on all political actors in Lebanon to exercise restraint and respect for Lebanon’s security and to respect the rule of law.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:26 p.m.)

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