Free Markets, Free People

Iran

Has the world fallen out of love with Obama?

Mort Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of US News and World report writes a blistering piece that certainly seems to indicate that’s the case. Zuckerman says the world sees Obama as “incompetent and amateur” and that on the world stage he is “well-intentioned but can’t walk the walk”. That’s a nice way to say he’s a lightweight in an arena where only seasoned heavyweights prosper.

Zuckerman’s opinion is not one to be taken lightly. He was a huge Obama backer. He voted for him. His newspaper, the NY Daily News, endorsed him and was enthusiastic in his support of the Obama candidacy.

Now, 16 months into his presidency, he’s obviously very disappointed in his choice. And, it would appear, has come to understand that which he didn’t know or didn’t bother to find out about Obama at the time – that he has no leadership skills or abilities and is, in fact, more of an academic than a Commander-in-Chief.

Zuckerman is a keen and long time observer of American foreign policy, and as such he has the ability to compare and contrast what American foreign policy has seemed like under different presidents and under this one. He begins his critique of Obama by saying he actually inherited a “great foreign policy legacy enjoyed by every recent US president.”

Of course to hear Obama talk about it you’d think he’d been handed the worst mess in the world. But even assuming that, what has Obama done? Not much – and that’s beginning to become evident to the rest of the world. Says Zuckerman:

Yet, the Iraq war lingers; Afghanistan continues to be immersed in an endless cycle of tribalism, corruption, and Islamist resurgence; Guantánamo remains open; Iran sees how North Korea toys with Obama and continues its programs to develop nuclear weapons and missiles; Cuba spurns America’s offers of a greater opening; and the Palestinians and Israelis find that it is U.S. policy positions that defer serious negotiations, the direct opposite of what the Obama administration hoped for.

So success in the field that is exclusively the President’s has been elusive. Then there’s Obama the “leader”:

The reviews of Obama’s performance have been disappointing. He has seemed uncomfortable in the role of leading other nations, and often seems to suggest there is nothing special about America’s role in the world. The global community was puzzled over the pictures of Obama bowing to some of the world’s leaders and surprised by his gratuitous criticisms of and apologies for America’s foreign policy under the previous administration of George W. Bush. One Middle East authority, Fouad Ajami, pointed out that Obama seems unaware that it is bad form and even a great moral lapse to speak ill of one’s own tribe while in the lands of others.

Seems to be common sense to the rest of us, yet it is hard for anyone, even his most ardent supporters, to deny he’s engaged in more of that than any useful diplomacy.

Zuckerman also notes something I commented on months ago. He has no personal relationship with any of the world’s leaders. And that is critical to success in foreign diplomacy:

In his Cairo speech about America and the Muslim world, Obama managed to sway Arab public opinion but was unable to budge any Arab leader. Even the king of Saudi Arabia, a country that depends on America for its survival, reacted with disappointment and dismay. Obama’s meeting with the king was widely described as a disaster. This is but one example of an absence of the personal chemistry that characterized the relationships that Presidents Clinton and Bush had with world leaders. This is a serious matter because foreign policy entails an understanding of the personal and political circumstances of the leaders as well as the cultural and historical factors of the countries we deal with.

His meeting China was also a disaster and he was treated almost disrespectfully there. And he’s all but deep sixed our “special relationship” with the UK and certainly isn’t much loved by Sarkozy of France. Don’t even begin to talk about Israel.

These sorts of problems and perceptions have an effect in international affairs. A perfect example?

Recent U.S. attempts to introduce more meaningful sanctions against Iran produced a U.N. resolution that is way less than the “crippling” sanctions the administration promised. The United States even failed to achieve the political benefit of a unanimous Security Council vote. Turkey, the Muslim anchor of NATO for almost 60 years, and Brazil, our largest ally in Latin America, voted against our resolution. Could it be that these long-standing U.S. allies, who gave cover to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, have decided that there is no cost in lining up with America’s most serious enemies and no gain in lining up with this administration?

So they go their own way in the absence of US leadership. This week, Russia’s President Medvedev criticized the US for placing additional sanctions on Iran, above and beyond the UN’s rather pitiful ones.

Obama has been a foreign affairs disaster to this point, and as Zuckerman points out, this has sent a very clear message to many of those out there who wish us ill as well as those who count themselves as allies:

America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies. One renowned Asian leader stated recently at a private dinner in the United States, “We in Asia are convinced that Obama is not strong enough to confront his opponents, but we fear that he is not strong enough to support his friends.”

I think at this point, that’s a perfectly defensible and accurate assessment. This is why I continue to say that there are some pretty heavy storm clouds brewing on the international horizon. US leadership is seen as missing or weak – a perfect time for those who take advantage of power vacuums to step forward and make their particular grabs for power.

Don’t be surprised to see it happen soon.

~McQ

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Quote of the day – unclenched fist edition

I have to say, the “unclenched fist” diplomacy is just working out swimmingly with Iran. From a speech Iranian president Ahmadinejad gave on Thursday:

“It is God-given that all the anti-human plans in the world, and all the crimes and bloodshed, are being carried out under U.S. government supervision, but that the demand [to stop them] comes only from our nation… This move of theirs [apparently a reference to calls by President Obama to support the Iranian protest movement] forces us to adopt yet another international mission, because today the most brutal dictatorship is being implemented against the American nation, which is subject to the worst suffocation – the press is not free to depict the crimes of Israel and America, nor can demonstrations in response to these crimes be held freely…

“I hereby announce that from this point forward, one of the Iranian nation’s main aspirations will be to deliver the American people from [its] undemocratic and bullying government.”

Thank goodness someone is going to help us in that regard /sarc.

Your guess is as good as mine as to how he plans on accomplishing that but his take on Jews remains about the same as when we had a clenched fist.

“…Sixty years ago, they [i.e. the West] gathered the filthiest and greatest of criminals, who [only] appear to be human [i.e. the Jews] from all the corners of the earth, organized and armed them – on artificial and false pretexts, fabricating information and inventing stories [hinting at the Holocaust]. They gave [the Jews] propaganda and military backing so that they would occupy the lands of Palestine and uproot the Palestinian nation…”

Rhetoric says, at least to me, that the Islamists are warming up to another run at Israel sometime in the not to distant future.

~McQ

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Why Turkey’s change of attitude toward Israel is important and could be ominous

Someone apparently had an extra bowl of Cheerios this morning:

Syrian President Bashar Assad said Israel’s attack on the Gaza aid flotilla has increased the chances of war in the Middle East, in a BBC interview on Wednesday. Assad said that Syria was working to prevent a regional war but he added that there was no chance of a peace deal with the current Israeli administration, which he called a “pyromaniac government”.

The rhetoric keeps ratcheting up as if various Arab factions are trying to talk themselves into testing Israel again. It’s been a while, but the in the past the results have been uniformly bad for the Arab nations.

But there has been a recent change. Turkey is now talking tough as well. And, add in Iran’s attempt to ingratiate itself with the Arab world and suddenly it’s a little different ballgame.

Turkey’s inclusion against Israel in the rhetorical wars now being waged has encouraged many Arab pundits to hail the Turks and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan as the much awaited “leader” of the movement against Israel. One writer hailed him as “more Arab than the Arabs” while criticizing Arab leaders as too passive.

There have been huge pro-Turkey rallies in Gaza, Beruit and Damascus. Recently, text messages from viewers displayed on Al-Jazeera TV during a June 4th Erdogan speech in Konya, some of which said: “Erdogan, you are king of the Arabs,” and “Son of the sultans, you have restored the glory of the Ottomans.”

Hizbullah considers Erdogan the new rock star of anti-Israeli leadership, and some Gazans are naming their children after him.

What Turkey and Erdogan have apparently managed to do, according to one writer, is bring those who have rejected Hamas and Hizbullah because of their Iranian ties on board in a unified “Islamic” effort to confront Israel:

“Unlike the Palestinians and many Arabs who support Nasrallah, large groups had yearned for a leadership unconnected to Iran or the new jihadi Shi’a… They rejected Hamas and accused the Palestinian jihad movement of being an instrument of Shi’ite Iran. Now Turkey has emerged to compensate for the incapacity of the leaders of the Arab regimes.

“Erdogan [has emerged as a figure] whose portrait can be displayed in homes, on billboards, and on cars. When all is said and done, the integration into the resistance movement of those who [had] hesitated is now being achieved through the gate of Islam.

Turkey seems to have finally rejected the west and put to rest its desire to be a part of it. Although it retains NATO membership, it appears to have no further interest in the EU. Turkey also appears to be again casting its eyes in the direction of its past glory – the Ottoman Empire. Certainly it isn’t pretending it would again rule over all of its former territories, but Turkey seems to feel it could be a major if not the major influence in the area of the Middle East. One sure way to work toward that goal is to take on Israel.

While it publicly claims it is still a secular nation ruled by secular institutions, this latest situation with Israel and Turkey’s reaction are all Islamic and designed to appeal to the Islamic world in general and the people of the Middle East specifically.

This is one of the conflicts that is brewing on the horizon. It is a new twist in a very old situation. But it promises real trouble if not addressed and defused quickly.

Of course, that will take leadership, not apology tours. I’m not sure that the US is up to the job. And I think the reason we’re hearing all this from Turkey now is they sense that is the case.

~McQ

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Iran: If these are tough sanctions, what were the "low-impact" options?

Well I’m pretty sure Iran is just horrified at the new sanctions – the toughest ever as our president claimed.

“With time, we got a resolution that we felt was very meaningful and credible and significant,” said Susan E. Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations. “But had we wanted a low-ball, low-impact resolution, we could have had that in a very short period of time.”

Good thing they went for the brass ring and didn’t take a low-ball, low-impact resolution, by gosh. I mean, check this beauty out:

The main thrust of the sanctions is against military purchases, trade and financial transactions carried out by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which controls the nuclear program and has taken a more central role in running the country and the economy.

Right – so now they’ll set up front companies and do their business through willing countries like Turkey, Brazil and Venezuela. Moving on:

The sanctions tighten measures previously taken against 40 individuals, putting them under a travel ban and asset freeze, but adds just one name to the list — Javad Rahiqi, 56, the head of the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center.

Whoa – they added one person to the sanctions of travel bans and asset freezing for a total of 41? My goodness, the humanity. That has a terrific chance of stopping any nuclear program dead in its tracks.

More:

The sanctions require countries to inspect ships or planes headed to or from Iran if they suspect banned cargo is aboard, but there is no authorization to board ships by force at sea. Iran has also proved itself adept at obscuring its ownership of cargo vessels.

So, wait, other countries can try to inspect Iranian ships they suspect of carrying banned cargo, but they cannot use force to board that ship. In other words, all the Iranian captain has to say is “no” and refuse to allow them on board, and the “inspection” is over? Thank goodness they didn’t go for low-ball, low-impact sanctions. They’d have probably allowed the Iranians to board the inspecting ship.

Another aspect of the sanctions bars all countries from allowing Iran to invest in their nuclear enrichment plants, uranium mines and other nuclear-related technology, and sets up a new committee to monitor enforcement.

Well there you go – the one positive aspect of this whole thing: the UN has managed to form yet another committee which will offer employment to a plethora of 3rd world diplomats who might otherwise have to do something useful to earn their keep without it.

The almost childlike belief by this administration that it can accomplish anything through the UN, especially stopping Iran from achieving a nuclear device, is incredible on its face. But to think the list of “sanctions” above equals “tough” is mind-boggling.

There is no appetite among the 3rd world to punish Iran in favor of the US’s policy desires. And especially now that they see a weak horse in charge here. The Obama administration can call this anything they want, but calling them “tough sanctions” is embarrassing. Thank goodness they didn’t opt for the low-impact, low-ball option. I’m sure that included a strongly worded letter.

~McQ

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Iran offers pro-Palestinian activists escort through Israeli blockade

And the tensions are ratcheted even higher. Turkey’s PM is talking about visiting the Gaza Strip (one would assume he’d appeal to Egypt for passage into the area rather than trying to run the blockade) and now Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is being offered as an escort to any wanna-be blockade runners.

“The naval wing of the Revolutionary Guard is ready to assist the peace flotilla to Gaza with all its effort and capabilities,” Khamenei’s Revolutionary Guard spokesman Ali Shirazi stated. “If the Supreme Leader issues an order for this then the Revolutionary Guard naval forces will do their best to secure the ships,” Shirazi said. “It is Iran’s duty to defend the innocent people of Gaza.”

A couple of points. This isn’t coming from Ahmadinejad. This is coming from Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (the offer, per Reuters, was made today in an interview). So this should be viewed with much more credibility, since Khamenei is where the real decision making rests with the Iranian regime.

Second point – it wouldn’t at all surprise me if Iran attempted such a thing. It would help their relations with the Arab world, it would divert attention to their favorite external enemy (besides the US) and, if they can provoke violence, further alienate Israel. It might also help them avoid really harmful sanctions. What are the lives of a few Revolutionary Guard naval forces with that sort of beneficial pay-off in the offing?

And make no mistake, Iran would be throwing their lives away. I’m not sure what the Revolutionary Guard thinks they could do alone against the entire IDF (air and naval forces), but my guess is if they opened fire on an Israeli vessel it would end up being a short, nasty and very one-sided battle affair. Having total air dominance of the area where the fight would take place, as the Israelis most likely would, tends to make the outcome almost pre-ordained – and perfect for Iran.

Depending on how the world (and media) views the outcome (and my guess is that in certain parts of the Arab world, the story would be written before the battle was ever waged) Israel might end up winning the kinetic battle handily and losing the broader media and opinion war.

Whether or not such an escort ever comes to pass, I think Iran sees a real win-win for them developing in this situation. Consequently, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them try to mount such an operation.

~McQ

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Why it is hard to take the UN seriously

I often call it the “third world debating club” because it gives visibility and a platform for such third world “notables” as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.  And it often does bizarre and totally absurd things like this:

Without fanfare, the United Nations this week elected Iran to its Commission on the Status of Women, handing a four-year seat on the influential human rights body to a theocratic state in which stoning is enshrined in law and lashings are required for women judged “immodest.”

How do you take seriously a body which elects to its “Commission on the Status of Women” – a commission “dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women” –  a country which openly and proudly oppresses its women?

Only the UN can answer that question.

~McQ

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When are sanctions not sanctions?

When enforcement is an option, I suppose.  Tell me how brilliant this is:

The Obama administration is pressing Congress to provide an exemption from Iran sanctions to companies based in “cooperating countries,” a move that likely would exempt Chinese and Russian concerns from penalties meant to discourage investment in Iran.

[…]

The “cooperating countries” language that the White House is pressing would allow the executive branch to designate countries as cooperating with the overall strategy to pressure Iran economically.

According to three congressional staffers familiar with the White House proposal, once a country is on that list, the administration wouldn’t even have to identify companies from that country as selling gasoline or aiding Iran’s refinement industry.

Even if, as current law allows, the administration can waive the penalties on named companies for various reasons, the “cooperating countries” language would deprive the sanctions of their “name-and-shame” power, the staffers said.

The bill in committee now doesn’t have this provision.  Essentially what this amounts to is the administration saying “if you’ll sign on to the sanctions (against the importation of gasoline), we won’t enforce them” to “cooperating countries”.  Pure symbolism over substance.

“We’re pushing for a ‘cooperating-countries’ exemption,” the White House official said. “It is not targeted to any country in particular, but would be based on objective criteria and made in full consultation with the Congress.”

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, however, said the exemption “is aimed at China and Russia specifically.”

“The administration wants to give a pass to countries for merely supporting a watered-down, almost do-nothing U.N. resolution,” she said.

This isn’t coherent foreign policy – this is pure politics mostly designed for domestic consumption.  This is about the ability to claim to have made progress against Iran by rallying the rest of the world to our side and imposing “tough new sanctions” via the UN when the intent is to never enforce them.

Of course Iran hasn’t been idle either.  They’re not doing “in-kind” bartering with regional neighbors which circumvents any sanction regime.  Swap oil for refined petroleum products and they’re not liable to such sanctions.  And of course Hugo Chavez and others in the socialist South American cabal have also said they’d ignore such sanctions anyway.

Last, but certainly not least, a gasoline sanction hits those that can’t afford it the most the hardest in Iran.  The regime?  It will always have plenty of gasoline.  The poor Iranian trying to feed his family – not so much.

Instead of playing these sorts of games, which are clearly doomed to failure (or irrelevance), maybe it’s time to reconsider putting back on the table some of the options the administration unilaterally took off the table last year.

~McQ

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NYT: In secret memo Gates complains US has no strategy to stop Iran nukes

The NY Times continues its recent tradition of publishing the contents of secret memos with information from one about our strategy, or lack thereof, for dealing with Iran:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document.

If true, it certainly isn’t unexpected.  In fact, the US has spent more time saying what it won’t do (i.e. taking things off the table) than what it will (“serious” sanctions).  However it appears that may be changing, finally.  If the Times is to be believed (which, anymore, is not an automatic) it is beginning to dawn on the brain trust that a) Iran isn’t at all intimidated by the prospect of sanctions b) feels no serious threat to their intentions and c) doesn’t plan on discontinuing them.

So this memo, if reported correctly,  is an apparent effort to ramp up a more coherent and comprehensive approach to dealing with Iran – an actual strategy.  And that includes some military options should “diplomacy and sanctions fail to force Iran to change course.”

Is there really anyone out there holding out hope that “diplomacy and sanctions” will have the desired effect?

Of course, and as expected, White House officials deny the absense of a strategy. National security adviser Gen. James Jones claims:

“On Iran, we are doing what we said we were going to do. The fact that we don’t announce publicly our entire strategy for the world to see doesn’t mean we don’t have a strategy that anticipates the full range of contingencies — we do.”

Except -according to the NYT  – the Secretary of Defense, certainly someone who would be privy to any military options, doesn’t seem to think we do.

For instance:

But in his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon — fuel, designs and detonators — but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.

In that case, Iran could remain a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while becoming what strategists call a “virtual” nuclear weapons state.

Then what?  Testing nuclear weaponry’s design no longer requires actually detonation of a nuclear device.  Sophisticated computer simulations now serve that purpose.  So Gates’ point – if he made it – is entirely credible.  They could indeed become a “virtual” nuclear state without us ever knowing about it (although I doubt their arrogance would allow the Iranian government to pass up an opportunity to rub the world’s nose in it).

The Times also contends:

According to several officials, the memorandum also calls for new thinking about how the United States might contain Iran’s power if it decided to produce a weapon, and how to deal with the possibility that fuel or weapons could be obtained by one of the terrorist groups Iran has supported, which officials said they considered to be a less-likely possibility.

But if we’re talking the “full range of contingencies” certainly one which has to be taken seriously and for which a strategy has to be formed.

In fact, other than “senior officials” and the NYT, there’s not much to verify the memo exists or the strategy doesn’t.  And a Gates spokesman has even gone as far as to claim, in the Secretary’s name, that such a strategy does exit:

“The secretary believes the president and his national security team have spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort considering and preparing for the full range of contingencies with respect to Iran.”

So does the Gates memo actually say what the NYT says it says?

I’m inclined to say yes, despite the statement of the Gates spokesperson because of this:

Mr. Gates’s memo appears to reflect concerns in the Pentagon and the military that the White House did not have a well prepared series of alternatives in place in case all the diplomatic steps finally failed. Separately, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote a “chairman’s guidance” to his staff in December conveying a sense of urgency about contingency planning. He cautioned that a military attack would have “limited results,” but he did not convey any warnings about policy shortcomings.

“Should the president call for military options, we must have them ready,” the admiral wrote.

That clearly indicates that at least Adm. Mullen didn’t believe the strategy included the necessary and appropriate military options.  And, as the NYT further reports, that seemed to be confirmed recently in some Senate testimony.  Speaking of the military contingencies against Iran, the Times says:

Administration officials testifying before a Senate committee last week made it clear that those preparations were under way. So did General Jones.

So I think it is fair to conclude that Sec. Gates may have written this memo that the NYT is reporting on and, in fact, that there isn’t yet a comprehensive long-range strategy to deal with a nuclear Iran.  To translate that a bit more, what that means is the administration’s focus has been almost exclusively on diplomacy and sanctions and Gates is making the case that those don’t appear they will yield the desired results and a more broad spectrum strategy which includes military contingencies be included and seriously considered.

He’s right.  But this may also be an effective way to get the word to Iran that time is running out and the military guys are beginning  be taken more seriously in discussions about how to react to Iran’s nuclear intransigence.

~McQ

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Mission Impossible

Yesterday, in the New York Times and other media outlets:

President Barack Obama secured a promise from President Hu Jintao of China on Monday to join negotiations on a new package of sanctions against Iran, administration officials said, but Hu made no specific commitment to backing measures that the United States considers severe enough to force a change in direction in Iran’s nuclear program.

In a 90-minute conversation before the opening of a summit meeting on nuclear security, Obama sought to win more cooperation from China by directly addressing one of the main issues behind Beijing’s reluctance to confront Iran: its concern that Iran could retaliate by cutting off oil shipments to China. The Chinese import nearly 12 percent of their oil from Iran.

Obama assured Hu that he was “sensitive to China’s energy needs” and would work to make sure that Beijing had a steady supply of oil if Iran cut China off in retaliation for joining in severe sanctions.

U.S. officials portrayed the Chinese response as the most encouraging sign yet that Beijing would support an international effort to ratchet up the pressure on Iran and as a sign of “international unity” on stopping Iran’s nuclear program before the country can develop a working nuclear weapon.

Today in the Jerusalem Post, via AP:

A state-owned Chinese refiner plans to ship 30,000 metric tons of gasoline to Iran after European traders halted shipments ahead of possible new UN sanctions, according to Singapore ship brokers.

[…]

A deputy Chinese foreign minister, Cui Tiankai, said Tuesday that China is ready to discuss all ideas that UN Security Council members put forward to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. But he said any agreement on Iran must involve all parties, not just one or two countries.

Cui said Iran’s legitimate right to have energy trade with other countries should not be undermined as the world pursues a settlement of the nuclear standoff.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is explain how today’s actions by China reconcile with the claim Obama made yesterday.

~McQ

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Different country, different reaction

You have to wonder why this announcement as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her visit, wasn’t treated the same was as a recent announcement in Israel was treated:

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Iran’s Russian-built nuclear power plant will be launched this summer, even as the United States called for Russia to delay the start-up. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Moscow on an official trip, urged Russia not to launch the plant until Tehran proves that it’s not developing atomic weapons.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, at a joint press conference with Clinton, immediately responded that Russia would put the reactor online.

 All smiles in Russia.

No courage in the face of an enemy, but willing to kick an ally at the first perceived “insult”.

Amateur hour in the US and the Kremlin knows it.  I mean, look at the “respect” the American position was given.

~McQ

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