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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 25, 2008

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT

Secretary Rice’s Travel Schedule

SYRIA/NORTH KOREA

Queries on Intelligence Materials Should Be Referred to Intelligence Community
Intelligence Assessment Presented Compelling Case
IAEA Briefed on Intelligence Raw Materials and Analysis
It Is a Case that Merits an Investigation and Follow-up by IAEA
Intelligence Community Have Said That They Stand By Analysis

NORTH KOREA

Working on Verification Within Six-Party Talks
U.S. Believes Six-Party Talks Can Lead to Goal of a Denuclearized Korean Peninsula
Information Discussed Among All Members of Six-Party Talks
Verification Process at Top of List
Next Steps Involve the Five-Parties Waiting for Declaration From North Korea
Issue Raised with North Korea on Intelligence Assessment / Constructive and Helpful to Process / Nonproliferation Placed Front and Center
Six- Party Mechanism Has Gotten Us Where We Are
Sung Kim Expected Back in Washington to Brief
Parties Briefed on Intelligence Materials
Intelligence Briefed a Number of Friends Around the World

SYRIA

Jeff Feltman Had a Discussion with Syrian Ambassador
Former President Carter’s Comments

INDIA

Indian Government’s Court Will Resolve Issues Within Their Own Political System

BHUTAN

Elections / U.S. Commitment to Help Realize Democratic Political Process Well-known

BAHRAIN

Incident Involving Sealift Vessel and U.S. Fifth Fleet

ZIMBABWE

Respected Independent Polls Have Indicated Tsvangirai as Winner of Election
Focus Should be on How to Help Zimbabwean People Avoid a Dramatic Crisis
Time for Zimbabwe’s Neighbors to Bring About Whatever Leverage They Can
Clearly There Was a Vote For Change CHINA/TIBET
U.S. Welcomes a Resumption of Dialogue Between China and Representatives of Dalai Lama


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:39 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I have one statement for you regarding the Secretary's travel. We'll put out a paper copy after the briefing.

Secretary of State Rice will travel to the United Kingdom, Israel, and the West Bank from May 1st to May 5th. In London, she will meet with the Quartet to discuss progress in peace talks since December. She will also participate in the ad hoc liaison committee meeting to discuss donor efforts and encourage others to follow through on their pledges of assistance to the Palestinian Authority from the December 2007 Paris Donors’ Conference. The Secretary will also participate in a P-5+1 meeting on Iran and discuss Kosovo with European colleagues. She will meet separately with UK Foreign Minister Miliband and Quartet Envoy Blair.

In Israel and the West Bank, she will meet with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials to discuss progress made on the ground and in the peace process, the situation in Gaza, and the effort underway to achieve agreement this year on the establishment of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Elise.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the Syria-North Korea issue and the briefing that took place yesterday?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, not at all. (Laughter.) Sorry, not going to do it.

QUESTION: Part of the briefing was that there was a senior North Korean official that was involved in the six-party talks that was in Syria.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information about when this picture was taken? Because it looks to me as if the person that was in Syria, perhaps, was a lot younger and maybe wasn't the senior official that's involved in the six-party talks when he was actually in Syria, so --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I don't, Elise, sorry. In terms of the intelligence materials and the intelligence assessments, I'm going to have to point you to my colleagues in the intelligence community. I know that they have distributed some materials to the media yesterday and there were some background briefings. I'm just going to have to refer you either to those materials or to them for any additional follow-up questions you might have.

QUESTION: Okay. It just seems that, like, some of the -- and I'm not even talking about the kind of reactor itself and the photos --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. I know the one you're talking about.

QUESTION: It does seem that you're making a link between cooperation with Syria and North Korea, some of it which, you know, started at a level -- like, some of the evidence just seems to be kind of a little bit old. And I was wondering if -- if there's a concern on the part of the Administration that by bringing all this evidence out into the open, that you're opening yourselves up to the same type of criticism about the strength of the evidence that you faced after the presentation of Secretary Powell to the UN, that, like, people are going to start, you know, picking it apart and, you know, obviously, this Administration has, you know, a reputation for, you know, not the strongest intelligence in the world. So if you -- (laughter) -- I'm being diplomatic.

MR. MCCORMACK: Is that the intelligence community or our IQs?

QUESTION: Well, maybe the IQs of the intelligence community.

MR. MCCORMACK: I see.

QUESTION: But if you could talk to your confidence that the international community may have about this.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Look, Elise, I can only point to the assessment of the intelligence community about this information. You know, they can -- they have presented a very compelling case in terms of the reactor and who was responsible for building it. You can look at the pictures and the similarities between Yongbyon and the facility on the ground in Syria. They've also detailed a number of other links. And they're quite confident in their analysis based on the materials that they have. I don't think they would have agreed to provide these materials and provide this assessment in public, never mind providing it also to friends and allies and others around the world, if they weren't confident in their assessment.

QUESTION: But just a quick follow-up. But you do understand that the intelligence community around the world and, you know, governments and perhaps the IAEA might take your intelligence with a grain of salt this time.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, in terms of the IAEA, we briefed them yesterday. There was a team of officials from Washington who traveled to Vienna to brief officials below the level of Secretary General ElBaradei regarding the intelligence, what the -- some of the raw materials as well as their analysis of the situation. We believe that it is a case that merits investigation and follow-up by the IAEA. Ultimately that will be their decision whether or not they do follow up with Syria and try to conduct an investigation to determine more facts on the ground. But, you know, beyond that, you know, the intelligence community is really – they can speak to their case. They can speak to their confidence in the levels – their confidence levels in their analysis, based on the materials that they have. And from what I have seen and what I have read, what I have been briefed on, they are confident of their assessment.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up briefly?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, we have asked many times that – can you trust North Korea and Iran as far as their nuclear program is concerned, that answer was yes, and we are working on that. Now, can you have some links as far as this outcome is concerned from A.Q. Khan and China, as far as helping North Korea and then going to – spreading other countries?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t have any information in that regard, Goyal. And I – just to correct what you stated at the top there, the whole reason why you have a verification regime is to possibly get to the state at which there is mutual trust among the parties in the six-party talks. That is something that is earned. It is something that is developed over time. Right now, we’re working on the verification part.

QUESTION: Do you still believe and trust in six-party talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: We believe in the six-party talks, Goyal, yeah. We believe in the mechanism. We believe in the process. And as I’ve said before, we believe that it can lead to the goal that everybody shares, and that is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and, ultimately, a better situation for the Korean people. But again, it’s a process that is based on performance in this mechanism. We believe it’s a strong mechanism. But it is also a mechanism, if there is not performance, that can deal with noncooperation.

QUESTION: Sean?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: Going back to Elise’s point for a second.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: I think that there is some concern that certainly the Syrians are going to be – have already and will this afternoon and will for the near future say, you know, this is – don’t be gullible, America, or the world.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Uh-huh.

QUESTION: You know, they were wrong the last time they made a public presentation. And, arguably, the last public presentation that was made was actually more public than this. You know, you had the Secretary of State go up to the UN before the Security Council and make a compelling case. He said at the time – he since retracted that, saying that. And in this case, you have a situation where there’s no official who has put their name to anything, except for that statement from the White House, which doesn’t contain any of the evidence. That evidence is out there with no official’s name attached to it, only as a video. Are you less confident in this information than you were in the information on Iraq, because no one is willing to put – no one is willing to go on the record and say – and make these allegations or present this intelligence?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Of course, people are going to try to draw these analogies. They aren’t analogous situations. Look, you know, I don’t think – I am not a person that is steeped in all of the raw materials and the analysis here, so it’s – I really can’t do their analysis justice.

QUESTION: Well, why not?

MR. MCCORMACK: And – but you’re --

QUESTION: In 2003, it was the Secretary of State sitting at the UN Security Council –

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- live, on worldwide television –

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- with the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, sitting directly behind him.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Yeah.

QUESTION: And now you’ve got two or three guys over in wherever speaking on background, presenting what some might say is, you know, similar – a similar case, similar evidence to what was presented in public before the UN.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Matt, I just -- you know, I really don’t think, in any way, the situations are analogous back in 2003 and the present in terms of the circumstances and the policies and the history leading up to all of this.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, like I said, the intelligence community has said that they stand by their analysis and they have tried to be open in terms of releasing some of the materials and talking about it, albeit on background. But again, I would encourage people who have questions about this to put it directly to the experts on this. I certainly couldn’t do the case justice here, as I am not (inaudible).

QUESTION: Well, I guess – no, no, I’m not trying to get you --

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: -- to repeat it on --

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- on camera or, you know, with your name attached to it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What I’m trying to figure out is why was there a decision – why doesn’t anyone – or why was the decision made not to have anyone attach their name, their reputation to this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, you can – as for the form --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of the form in which the information was presented, I think you can talk to the intelligence community about that.

Okay, Param.

QUESTION: Sean, the question that’s being asked after the revelation is – very obvious question is whether the United States has raised this with North Korea and what was the response?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Certainly, over the past several months, this issue has been raised with North Korea. It has been in the context of the six-party talks and it has also been an issue that has been discussed. And the information, in some form, has been discussed among all the members of the six-party talks. And we believe, actually, that has been very constructive and helpful to the process of the six-party talks and, in fact, the mechanism of the six-party talks, because it has put verification really at the top of the list of the things that the six-party mechanism is trying to accomplish. You can have declarations, you can have actions, but those things need to be verified.

And this information has strengthened that case to the point where you have China that is now going to be chairing a group within the six-party mechanism on issues related to verification. And I would expect that, should the process move forward, that that is going to be an essential component of the six-party process. And also, it has had the effect of putting nonproliferation really front and center in this process.

When we talk now about the denuclearized Korean Peninsula, we talk about plutonium, we talk about highly enriched uranium, we also talk about nonproliferation as an equal component. And that is, in our view, a very significant development. It has always been part of the process, but really, the prominence of it within the six parties has been raised. And that has been a positive aspect, I think, that has come out of this.

QUESTION: And just a quick follow-up.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: So what is the response to the North Koreans on this? I mean, this is very important because you have brought the case --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- across the globe. And people are interested in the sense that you’re having a dialogue with North Korea.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the six parties – well, the other five parties of the six parties, I’m sorry – yeah.

QUESTION: I mean – I mean, you have meet -- met North Korea on the sidelines and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. No, yeah, exactly, but it is important and significant that it is in that context of the six parties because we, again, don’t believe and continue to believe that bilateral dialogue will really not get us to where we want to go. It is really the six-party mechanism that has allowed us to get to the point where we have now, which is significant, and that will allow us ultimately to achieve the goals we all want, again, if North Korea chooses to perform.

QUESTION: But what is the response by the North Koreans when you --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, you know, again, I’m not going to share every exchange within the context of those discussions, but I would leave it to them and that they’re fully capable of responding in public. I have not thus far seen any response from them in public.

QUESTION: Sean?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, you said the issue has been raised with the North Koreans.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: But has this video presentation specifically been shown to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Information has been shared with them. I can’t speak to whether the video that was prepared by the intelligence committee itself was shared with them. But certainly, enough information was shared so that they understood that we knew exactly what had happened.

QUESTION: You said this morning that they had some awareness that something would be made public.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate on that? Can you say to what extent they knew what the nature of the activities would be --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we didn’t --

QUESTION: -- or when you told them or how you told them?

MR. MCCORMACK: We didn’t brief them in details about our plans, but they were aware that, in some form or fashion, this issue was going to be surfaced publicly.

QUESTION: But when did you tell them?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t have a specific date for you, but over the past months.

QUESTION: And was this used as a leverage point in the negotiations?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I mean, just go back to what I said. I believe that, you know, if -- looking back on the process over the past several months, that this -- we have made effective use of this information in the context of the six parties. But again, you know, we will see, based on North Korea’s behavior, whether or not this process move forwards. It gets down to their performance.

Yeah.

QUESTION: What is the next step now on a practical level in the six-party talks? What is going to be happening next? And can you say more about China’s role in terms of verification?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of verification, that’s something that will, I would expect, evolve over time. The next steps practically are the five parties waiting for North Korea to provide a declaration. I suppose it shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion that they will provide one. We all hope and expect that they will. Once they do, well, that’ll be handed over to the Chinese as chair of the six-party process. Once that’s handed over, it’ll be examined, analyzed, judged. And if it does account for all aspects of their nuclear program, then the Secretary of State and this building will have to make a recommendation to the President whether or not the process moves forward. The President will have to decide. And if it does move forward, then that declaration, of course, would be subject to verification and they would also have to carry out their outstanding obligations with respect to disabling Yongbyon. And then the other parties would be, I believe at that point, prepared to fulfill their obligations.

QUESTION: I mean, in the past, this process of getting them to provide the declaration has involved trips by Chris Hill, meetings, and so forth. Is there anything like that planned?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not at the moment. Sung Kim is expected to be back this afternoon in Washington and he will brief people back here as to what he heard from the North Koreans. And you know, perhaps, at that point, we may have some further characterization of his discussions. I’m sure it won’t be very elaborate. Perhaps we’ll have some further characterization of what he heard when he was in Pyongyang, and then it really gets to North Korea and what they choose to do.

QUESTION: Sean, outside of the IAEA, were the other six -- were the six parties briefed separately, individually, as a group, on yesterday’s --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I can see if I can share with you a bit more the variety of briefings that took place through diplomatic channels over the past couple of days. But the other, what, four parties, I guess you can say, over the period of months, and I don't have specific dates for you, were briefed in some form on the information that we have.

QUESTION: The other four? Don't you mean the other five?

MR. MCCORMACK: China --

QUESTION: Maybe not as full as the other -- as the four got, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: China and South Korea, Japan and Russia.

QUESTION: So they --

MR. MCCORMACK: They received the briefing. And also the North Koreans were presented with this information as well.

QUESTION: So did --

MR. MCCORMACK: This took place over, I believe it was late last year.

QUESTION: So none of this would -- none of what came out yesterday would have been a surprise to any of the --

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't -- again, I can't speak to exactly what materials were presented to the other members of the six-party talks or to other friends and allies or friends and allies that were briefed around the world. But the substance and basically the bottom-line conclusion was -- shouldn't have come to the -- a surprise -- shouldn't have come as a surprise to any of the six-party members.

Yeah. Well, Samir -- Samir, you have one on this?

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up? I'm sorry.

MR. MCCORMACK: Kirit, yeah.

QUESTION: If you don't mind, one more.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Following up on that real quick, at what point did you tell the Israelis you were going to make a public rollout of this information?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, we briefed a number of friends and allies around the world over the past several days or over the past period of time -- past months.

QUESTION: And did that include the Israelis?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't have the full list in front of me.

QUESTION: And the second question that I had, and I apologize if you answered it before I came in. I missed the first couple of questions. Does the State Department believe that now that this information is actually, in fact, public, it will complicate your efforts in the six-party talks to get a declaration from the North Koreans?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see. It shouldn't. I don't believe that it should. But that ultimately is a question that should be directed at the North Koreans. And you know, I can't tell you whether or not they are seeking a pretext to not fulfill their obligations or they fully intend to. We'll see. The proof of that will be in their actions and we'll be watching to see what they do in the coming days and weeks.

QUESTION: To put it another way, do you think this will help get a declaration from the North Koreans?

MR. MCCORMACK: Kirit, we'll see. You know, again, it's very difficult to determine what goes into the -- what calculations go into their decision making, Kirit. It's a very closed -- very closed process. We'll see.

QUESTION: But, I mean, you must have been (inaudible) with the idea, hopefully, that this would actually help the process, right?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think I just talked about that, the ways in which we believe it has helped the process. And certainly, at a minimum, it has laid down a very clear line in terms of a declaration, what is required in terms of their proliferation activities. So I think they understand very clearly the bar that they need to get over on that part of the declaration.

Yeah.

QUESTION: The Syrian Ambassador was seen visiting the State Department. Did you present him a briefing about the evidence?

MR. MCCORMACK: There was a discussion here at the State Department. Jeff Feltman spoke with the Syrian Ambassador here yesterday.

Goyal.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. You tell me. All right, you want to --

QUESTION: Thank you. Sean, another issue of this U.S.-India civil nuclear issue. Last week, Mr. Singhvi, a spokesman for the Indian Congress Party, was lobbying for -- or discussing this issue in Washington and also went to other countries. He was speaking at Heritage Foundation. When he said that in a way, issue may be dead, because progress is not going forward what the lefts in India wants because of the provisions in the agreement that they want to be changed, which maybe I don't know if the U.S. is willing to make some changes because time is running out as far as U.S. Congress is concerned or the Indians and the left parties are concerned. Are there going to be any major changes, you think, because they are willing to think and act on this issue if there are making -- going to be some changes here?

MR. MCCORMACK: The last that I heard, Goyal, this really is an issue that is in the Indian Government's court. If they are going to resolve the -- their issues within their own political system, it's going to be up to them to do so based on the agreement that's on the table.

QUESTION: And a second different issue, following elections in Bhutan are concerned that this was the first time that ever any dictator or king in the world history has said that I'm stepping down for the free elections and democracy which took place in Bhutan. Do you expect any other dictators or kings to follow him?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't even know how to begin going at that question, Goyal. Look, it's a -- it was a step forward for the Bhutanese people. And you know, I think our commitment to helping people around the world realize all the benefits of a democratic political process is well-known.

Yeah, in the back there.

QUESTION: A cargo ship apparently under contract with the U.S. military may have fired on an Iranian boat or boats in the Arabian Gulf. Do you have anything on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the 5th Fleet folks out in Bahrain are addressing that issue. I think they’ve spoken to the fact that there was some incident there involving a sealift vessel, but I’ll really leave it to them to describe the circumstances of what happened.

Yeah.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that. This happened a couple of times now. Is there any kind of diplomatic protocol in dealing with these kind of incidents? Any advice you’ve given the Navy or –

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the 5th Fleet really has a lot of experience operating in the Gulf and going through the Strait of Hormuz. And certainly, we’re prepared to provide any assistance or advice to them, but they’re really fully capable of dealing with these kinds of issues, given – with their rules of engagement.

QUESTION: And as these incidents keep happening, though, do you -- is this not a concern, is this not something that you sort of prepare for now?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, we have full confidence in our sailors to act in a professional way, according to the rules of engagement that are laid out, that are very carefully thought out.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, does the Administration believe that the opposition leader in Zimbabwe was the clear victor of the elections there?

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, there were a lot of independent and respected polls that came out that indicated that Mr. Tsvangirai was the winner of the election. I think what the focus needs to be now is on how to help the Zimbabwean people avoid what could be a dramatic crisis. We’ve seen indications that the regime of President Mugabe is preparing to use force and perhaps violence against opposition political parties. And it’s really incumbent upon the neighbors of Zimbabwe and anybody who has an interest in this issue to bring about the maximum leverage that they can to help avoid what could be a terrible situation for Zimbabwe.

QUESTION: The – is preparing to or has already begun to?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there have been some raids. There have been some raids. Clearly, there was a use of force there. And sadly, it is consistent with the behavior of this regime over the past years. I merely meant to indicate that there are other indications that they are perhaps preparing to use more severe force, just based on the news reports that I have seen. And certainly, now is the time for Zimbabwe’s neighbors to bring about whatever leverage they can to avoid what could be a terrible situation.

QUESTION: But you don’t – does the United States have any information to suggest that – or to have – does the United States have a lead on the actual original vote count – official vote count to have the senior official go out and say that Tsvangirai was –

MR. MCCORMACK: I think she was – yeah, I think what she was referring to were these outside independent polls.

QUESTION: So it’s not the position that -- at least right now, or it’s not your understanding, that there is a clear victor?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, clearly, there was a vote for change. There was a vote for change and there were respected polls that were out there that indicated that Mr. Tsvangirai won.

QUESTION: Well --

MR. MCCORMACK: But again, we don’t – I don’t – I’m not sure that we –

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) parliament, but I’m talking about the presidential parliament election.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.

QUESTION: Was there a vote for change in the presidential --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think if you look at some of these independent polls, there’s an indication of that.

Kirit.

QUESTION: If I can just bring up something we talked about the last couple of weeks, and that’s the case of President Carter’s trip to Syria to visit Hamas?

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm, right.

QUESTION: He came out with a statement on Wednesday that was rather stark, calling out the Secretary and essentially calling her a liar about whether he was advised to go or not to go and meet with Hamas. Could you respond to his comments, once and for all, and say whether he was specifically told not to meet with Hamas? David Welch gave an interview to NPR where he wouldn't exactly go that far and say that he specifically said not to go.

MR. MCCORMACK: I will repeat what I repeated, I think the day before yesterday, and that is to say we’ve been 100 percent consistent in our statements from the beginning on this matter. They have not varied and we stand by those statements as statements of fact.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: About China. Chinese officials have said that they will meet a representative of the Dalai Lama in the coming days with the hope of bringing an end to the China-Tibet conflict. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s very encouraging. A very -- a potentially very encouraging step -- these statements. And we would welcome a resumption of a dialogue between China and the representatives of the Dalai Lama as a way of addressing issues on both sides. So we would urge that there be some immediate follow-up to these statements of intent, but these statements certainly are encouraging.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: I think we have one more. Did you have a question, ma’am?

QUESTION: Can we go to north Africa for a while?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Is -- does the U.S. think of latest statements by the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Sahara that the referendum is not, I quote, “an attainable goal”?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll have to get you an answer on that. I don’t know. Off the top of my head, I don’t have anything for you.

QUESTION: Have a nice weekend.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you, Goyal. You, too.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:06 p.m.)

DPB # 74



Released on April 25, 2008

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