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C. David Welch IV Lebanese Broadcasting Company

Interview With The Lebanese Broadcasting Company

C. David Welch, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs

Washington, DC
November 9, 2006


QUESTION: So, we would like to welcome Mr. David Welch, a secretary of State. We would like to welcome you in this dialogue with a sample of Lebanese youth. I would like to ask you myself the first question. What do you think of the dialogue questions that are taking place now in Lebanon, and are you concerned if the dialogue changed, that people would go to the streets?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Thank you for giving me some time to appear on your program, and thank you for the interests of your viewers.

We consider the dialogue underway among Lebanese to be very important. We encourage this idea of political dialogue to bridge differences and promote a better future for Lebanon. So we're hopeful for its success. Of course, it's a matter for the Lebanese participants themselves to decide what to do coming out of a dialogue.

QUESTION: The second question, before I give the floor to one of the young people with us: Do you think that the Congress elections and the success of the Democrats will reflect on the foreign policy of the United States, and will this detect some radical changes?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: We have had political changes in the Congress in the past and we shall have them in the future. Most Americans are, frankly, thrilled by the election in the sense that there were some people who won and some people who lost, but everybody competed in a good spirit. This is the foundation of American democracy.

I believe that, with respect to our foreign policy interests, especially in the Middle East, you will not see much change. Of course, some of the personalities in Congress who will have influential roles in the various committees may well be different. After all, in the House, for sure, the leadership changes. So I still expect that you will see the same spirit and focus on the Middle East as one of the most important priorities for the United States, whether they're Democrat or Republican.

QUESTION: Now I will give the first question to one of the young people: Thank you, Mr. Welch for taking the time of establishing dialogue with us. I had the honor of testifying -- or listening to you testify to congress last July. And last July in the Congress we noticed the incredible role that the Lebanese youth have played in leading the Cedar Revolution. And in your words you said, "We support a Lebanon that is free of terrorism, violence and foreign intervention." My question is: You said that Lebanon is a cradle of democracy, but today you are saying that Lebanon is a scene for foreign intervention, so to what extent do you take responsibility in the July war?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, first of all, we tried to bring the hostilities in the summer to an end as quickly as possible and to do so in a manner that would restore security to Lebanese and Israelis alike.

The decision by one Lebanese militia to launch an attack against a neighboring state, Israel, on July 12th was not a decision, in our belief, taken by the majority of Lebanese with the agreement of the government. This was the action by one armed group, for which they bear complete responsibility for all the violence and destruction that came afterwards. Well, that period is now passed. We have a resolution that protects Lebanon and Lebanese, and Israelis, and ideally this will not happen again the future.

The international community is prepared to step up and support Lebanon -- not just to overcome the incidents of this summer, but also to deal with the promise of the future. We count heavily on Lebanese youth to help deliver on that promise as well. You represent the spirit of Lebanese democracy, and that spirit showed itself throughout the region in, you know, in the Cedar Revolution, and we are completely behind you in that respect. And we're very worried, still, about foreign intervention, including by Syria, in the political affairs of Lebanon. Syria should have no hand in these matters. All the experience that Lebanese have from Syria's occupation of Lebanon has been a negative and bitter one. It went on far too long and it ended up aggravating the situation considerably. This is what we don't want to see happen again. We want a future that is a promising one, with economic and political opportunities for all Lebanese, no matter what their faith, what their background, what their economic and social status. People should be free of influence from outside.

QUESTION: Now, a young man: Mr. Welch, good evening. I, as a young Lebanese man, know very well that international policies largely influence what's taking place in Lebanon. We want independent sovereignty and freedom and we've been fighting for that, but today we know that the Democrats are running the Congress, and this will necessarily influence the policy of Mr. Bush and the foreign policies. The 1701 opened a window on two things in Lebanon: first of all, the prisoners and, second, the -- (inaudible). And we know that historically the Democrats are closer to the Jewish lobby and the Israelis, if we may say.

So I have two questions. One, do you think that this will positively or negatively impact those two points? And, second, can there be interferences from the Democrats in the Iranian dossier, the Syrian one and the Iraqi one?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: First of all, sir, I think the support from both Democrats and Republicans for a free, sovereign and independent Lebanon is very, very strong. Lebanon has many friends in the United States who are both Democrat and Republican. When I testify to Congress, they're asking me questions which are about the issues, not about - negative about Lebanon in any respect. I believe that this president's policy will enjoy good support in front of our Congress for trying to make advances for freedom, prosperity and security in Lebanon.

Look, we're most worried not about the interference of the American Congress in our agenda, and in Lebanon's agenda, but, frankly, about the unfortunate willingness of some in Lebanon to observe the regional agenda of others, and by the interference by Syria, in particular, in the political affairs of Lebanon.

You know there are many crimes from the past, too, which still have gone unanswered. In addition to the investigation into the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and nearly two dozen other people, there are other crimes that have occurred in Lebanon in recent months. And then there are the incidents from the past, which people should not forget. I understand there are many Lebanese citizens who disappeared, many think into Syrian jails, at the time of the civil war in Lebanon. What happened to these people? We call for an answer from Syria to their fate. Many Lebanese families, to this day, want to know what happened to their loved ones. This is a matter that deserves attention. We need to be looking forward, but we should not also forget where the problems came from in the past.

QUESTION: Do you think that there could be indeed a bond between the U.S. and Syria in order to limit this international tribunal to a certain mandate? For a very long time, you had given Syria a free hand in Lebanon. Do you think that this could be repeated?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I see no chance that this will be repeated. We never agreed to give Syria a free hand in the affairs of any of its neighbors and we certainly didn't agree to give it a free hand in the case of Lebanon. Syria overstayed its welcome from Lebanese. It violated the terms of the understanding reached with Arab partners about its presence in the Lebanon and, and the end, it was asked by the United Nations to leave. And only very reluctantly did Syria withdraw, and even after its withdrawal it has been tempted and still interferes in Lebanon. This something that should be brought to an end. The United States does not agree with that. Lebanese don't agree with it. Lebanon's friends and allies internationally don't agree with it.

QUESTION: Good evening, Mr. Welch. There is lots of former Israeli military and intelligence who knew how to pacify Gaza, for example, but as long as the U.S. basically says to whoever is in charge, you can do whatever you want, and you will still be pumping 2 to 4 million just to -- and as long as there are the cluster bombs, what can happen? Can you comment on that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, I will comment on your statement, which is a statement and not really a question. We believe that every nation has a right to defend itself. This does not mean that we do no have concerns with how countries exercise the right of self defense.

In the case of Gaza, the horrible tragedy at Beit Hanoun just yesterday is something that reminds all of us how innocent people can get caught by one side or another in military circumstances that they don't control. This was a regrettable incident. We made a statement from the White House, and in the name of the president, yesterday. Israel has apologized. I don't think, with all due respect, that we should -- you should associate the United States with this kind of regrettable tragedy. With respect to the cluster munitions that appear to have been used in southern Lebanon, this matter is still being looked into and we haven't received all the results of that inquiry, but I can assure that when we do get those results, they will be seriously, whatever they are, and we will take the appropriate action.

QUESTION: Mr. Welch, I have a comment on one of the sentences you said. You said that the Lebanese at first welcomed the Syrian presence. In fact, they never did so. And now, regarding the Lebanese prisoners in the Syrian prisons and why it hasn't been settled so far, today we have seen in the Lebanese media new proof that Lebanese people are still in Syrian prisons. I want to ask you, why do you always intervene too late? Why can't you put an end to those matters before they happen?

QUESTION: Oh, that's a very good point. You know, this has always been a concern of ours. You know, our object here is to make Lebanon stronger. The United States is a friend of the Lebanese people. We understand that many times during your history, Lebanon has been a playground for the interests of others. You have to trust us on this. Our concern here is for you, the Lebanese people.

And we think that there ought to be an inquiry into what happened to people who disappeared. Look, there is some substantial evidence that people disappeared into the hands of the Syrians, when they were in Lebanon, and they were taken away. Something should be done about that. We should ask the Syrian government, just as energetically as we are asking the Israeli government, what happened to these people? And, as I understand it, there are many of them.

QUESTION: We know that one of the most important objectives of the greater U.S. policy is to spread democracy and human rights in the region, from Mauritania to Afghanistan. My question is, is the U.S. administration taking into account the existence of the different ethnic and religious groups in those countries that have the right to get their rights? If you think so, how and which system would be the best to safeguard those minorities and their rights?

Second, do you think that Iraq is a good example where you have implemented the federal system, and do you that Lebanon could be an example of the federal system as well?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Thank for this question. It's an interesting and, at times, difficult one. First, we believe that every place is unique. Lebanon has its unique characteristics and history and those should be respected. And, yes, we do believe that, just as the majority is able to express its political with strength, so should the view of minorities be protected.

The United States is, as you know, an immigrant nation. We are composed of many different kinds of people here in my country. We don't consider our formula to be the best or a magic, but it does work for us and what our formula is based on is the majority rules, but it respects the rights of minorities.

I recognize that even in our own history that has not always been the case. My boss, for example, Secretary Rice, reflects in public, from time to time, on the fact that some of her ancestors were considered, under American laws at one point in time, to be half men. Well, that was something that was a historic injustice in our country and we worked to correct, according to our own laws, tradition and system.

We still have work to do. We don't think our example of federal government is necessarily the one that's appropriate for everybody else. We think the important principle here is the rights of the individual. Every individual has a right to be seen, to be heard, to be protected, to have their known, felt and expressed in a political manner, in safety and in security. That is the fundamental governing principle of any democracy.

Now, with all due respect, what would work in Lebanon? I don't think you should ask me. You have to ask your political leaders. What is the best one to work for Lebanon? I think that this is part of what the national dialogue is about, to get together and try and reach a common peaceful solution to the questions that are before the country.

I believe in this kind of -- this spirit of dialogue. I think the idea coming from the speaker of the parliament was a good one. Of course, my view is not important. What is important is what comes out of this: whether it unites Lebanese; whether it allows them to move forward with a positive agenda.

QUESTION: Thank you Mr. Welch. : Good evening, Mr. Welch. You have mentioned a while ago that the 1701 was issued in order to protect Lebanon, but we are seeing daily Israeli violations of this resolution, and you are not doing anything in this regard, but if the Hezbollah violates even one part of the resolution, will the Security Council take other resolutions putting Lebanon under Chapter 7, and why don't you stress on Israel to take a resolution against it in order to convince us that you are really representing the international community in this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I believe you're referring, in this respect, to over-flights of Lebanon. We have spoken to the Israeli government about this. We've expressed our concern. We believe that all parties should implement this resolution strictly. I'm confident that the Israeli government will listen to the voice of the international community on this. There are parts of the resolution that deserve stronger enforcement: in particular, in order that the arms embargo should be respected. These are measures designed to protect the security of Lebanese. They are not measures that are designed to impose anything on Lebanon. We believe all countries should respect this resolution, including Israel.

QUESTION: Good evening, Mr. Welch. First of all, I would like to tell you that I feel sorry because I wish that this feeling of awareness towards Lebanon happened 15 years. This would have spared too many problems for Lebanon. And second, Lebanon and many things that the invasion of Syria to Lebanon was under the U.S. backing, so, now, what are the guarantees that you can now offer to the Lebanese, promising that what happened 15 years ago will not happen today, because many Lebanese do fear that maybe the loss of the Republicans in the elections may open the door to some new deal with Syria at the expense of Lebanon? This is what some Lebanese think. What do you think, especially after the Baker-Hamilton recommendations?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: You know, I agree with you. Sometimes, when you look back through history, there are things we would all wish we would have done differently. Certainly we wanted to seen an end to the Lebanese civil war. We thought that the Taif Agreement was a constructive step toward that end. Unfortunately, not all parts of that agreement were implemented, and, unfortunately, the decision that led to a continued a Syrian presence in Lebanon did not bring what Lebanese had hoped for and expected. At the end, Syria wore out its welcome. It was no longer welcome in Lebanon and the international community and the Arab League did not support this. Syria has now withdrawn its military forces. It should not make a mistake again in the future by assuming that it can exercise its political influence in a way that Lebanese don't accept.

I think the Lebanese should be free to mind their own affairs. There are plenty of issues for Lebanon to tackle without having the difficulty of added foreign interference. And, please, I encourage all viewers of this program to look carefully at the record of the United States over many years with respect to our friendship toward Lebanon. We have been the strongest supporters in the international community of a free and independent Lebanon. We will remain that way, whether there is a Republican House or Senate or a Democrat House or Senate. We will remain that way in 2009 after the end of the Bush administration, no matter who comes after it. I have spoken to many American politicians, whether they are Democrats or they're Republicans, and they are all strong believers in the future of Lebanon.

QUESTION: Good evening, Mr. Welch. And since we have mentioned the issue of the Lebanese in Syrian prisons, I would like to pay tribute to Boutros Khawand a Lebanese Phalangist who was kidnapped many years ago. According to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, he said that the starting point of terrorism in the world is the Palestinian issue, the Palestinian crisis, and we think that the foreign policy of Israel is not helping much.

Israel withdrew from Lebanon unilaterally without any peace agreement and now they are building the separation wall. All this is leading to a radical movement appearing, especially in Palestine. And I think that the international community lost the Palestinian Liberation Organization and it was replaced by a radical organization. So why the United States, as a solution for this terrorism, does not put forth to the Palestinian people and does not convince Israel to adopt a more open foreign policy, because this would solve the Middle East problem and resolve them of terrorism worldwide?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: No question that this issue, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, is a fundamental one to peace and security, including throughout the area. As you know, President Bush is the first American president to make it official U.S. government policy that we would work toward an outcome that had two states, one called Israel, one called Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. That's our goal. This is not an easy job to do. It requires that all parties to the conflict accept the idea of a two-state solution.

Unfortunately, you have a situation now, as you point out in your question, where a radical movement has assumed government authority, the Palestinian Authority, and it doesn't accept the vision of a two-state solution. It doesn't recognize that there is a state called Israel. It doesn't accept the Arab League Initiative for Peace passed in Beirut some years ago.

I can't explain this decision on their part. After all, I think most people throughout the area, to be honest with you, are scared and tired from this conflict. They want to see an end to it and they don't -- it's uncomfortable and dangerous when some political parties believe that it's possible, still, to eliminate the idea of two states living side by side in peace and security and have instead one state, established maybe by a fatwa that, you know -- this is not going to happen. Everybody wants to see a negotiated and peaceful outcome based on the principle of "land for peace" and two states living side by side in peace and security.

QUESTION: Now we move to the next question: Good evening. Even though I understand that the policy of the U.S. administration will bring nothing good to this region, or to any other region, I would like to ask Mr. Welch -- the Democrats started sanctioning you and the -- throughout the vote before we sanction you in the international tribunals for the massacres that you have allowed. It did not stop the war on Lebanon; it ignited the war against Lebanon.

Ms. Rice was the cause for the behavior of the Rome Conference and did not accept an early ceasefire. And Mr. Bush also said that this is part of fighting terrorism. Do you think that killing civilians is terrorism? Do you think that killing all those innocent Iraqis also means fighting terrorism? Allow me to tell you and to tell the Democrats as well that they have to read carefully the report of Mr. Edward S. Herman -- entitled "Why Do they Hate Us?" In fact, we do not hate the American people. We love all the people of the world, but we hate those who defend the Israeli policies because Israel is perpetrating massacres.

And I would like to ask you: Why don't you accept the democracy when Hamas won in Palestine and when the Hezbollah won in the Lebanese elections, when Nicaragua won, and why, at the same time, you accept the democracy in your own vote and elections, but in our countries, whenever we have that kind of democracy, you don't accept it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, first of all, I appreciate you have strong views and I hope you understand that I may have different ones. I don't agree with your views, but I respect your right to voice them. Within that spirit of respect, when we talk about democracy, we believe in protecting the right of people to have a different view. That doesn't mean we have to agree with it.

We saw the election that occurred in the Palestinian territories last January as a legitimate election. It was free. It was fair. People competed and they won on the basis of their platform. We never said that that was wrong, but we are not required to agree with the views and the solutions of a party that we think supports terrorism and that does not agree with us. This is - you can't enforce that on me anymore than I could necessarily, or would even want to, enforce my view on you.

Also, let's not confuse the situations here. In the case of the Nicaraguan election, we accepted that outcome. Again, we may not agree with all the views of the people who have been elected, but that's not the point. The point here is to allow people the freedom to choose, but they also have a responsibility. With being elected comes a responsibility to the voters who elected you to pursue the best possible course for the interests of their people.

Now, with respect to the government in the Palestinian territory, Hamas, they have the right to choose not to accept the existence of Israel. They have a right to choose not to accept all the resolutions, agreements and understandings of the past, and they have the -- they can choose to pursue terrorism and violence if they wish. The problem with those decisions is they are not in the interest of the Palestinian people. Many Palestinians disagree with them. In fact, the majority of the people who voted in the election in January likely would disagree with those principles -- with those views of the Hamas government. So, I ask you this: Is the tyranny of one group imposing itself on another? This is a responsibility that comes with democratic governance, and that is to take care of the interests of the people. The Hamas-led government has not delivered on the interests of the Palestinian people. They have delivered now and they will not deliver in the future.

QUESTION: Good evening, Mr. Welch, and I would like to congratulate you for being so diplomatic. We have understood that the foreign policy of the United States will not be changed. Does this mean that you are not going to change your absolute support for Israel?

And my question is: The strategy of the United States in the region is that they entered Iraq -- now Iran is acting in Iraq as a superpower, and they will have made Syria the symbol of the struggle in the Arab world, and they have oppressed the Palestinian people and they have reinforced extremism in Lebanon, even if indirectly, especially against the Hezbollah. So what is this U.S. strategy? Is it really a case of strategy, or is it a group of mistakes?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, look, the situation in Iraq is an extremely difficult one, but most importantly, it's extremely difficult for the Iraqi people, who are suffering through this period. I think you need to look at this in a different way, if I may suggest.

First, is Iran helping Iraqis, or hurting them? Second, what is the message of hope and reassurance that the government of Iran is bringing here? Everything that you hear from the Iranian regime is negative. They are not advocating bringing the youth of this region into better jobs. They're not advocating bringing economic prosperity to people. They gave their own citizens no reassurance of security by getting the international community to embrace them. Instead, they are isolating themselves from the main impulses in the international community today, which are to protect the freedoms that every person deserves: to protect their life, to protect their security, to protect their economic livelihood, and to protect their right to have a free choice. In Iran today, no one has a free choice. No one elects this government. They -- in the last presidential election, there were hundreds of people who wanted to run and only six were allowed. So, this is the theme that they have. It's no, no, no to everything, and all preaching about disaster and war. And this is not good for the security and welfare of everybody in the area.

Back to Iraq for a moment: The people of Iraq are going through a difficult time. Now is the time to help them; not to be in there interfering in their affairs or the interests of one regional state or another. This is time when Iraq needs support from the neighborhood, too, from responsible countries in the neighborhood, not just those who are enemies of peace. I think the Iraqi people deserve a better chance. And, of course, we have our responsibility to help with that. We are trying our very best at great cost to the American people and to the American taxpayer. Democrat and Republican alike, we are not going to abandon this hope. We are there to help Iraqis, but it is also the responsibility of others to help out, too.

QUESTION: The last question from the participants, before I ask you myself a last question: First of all, I would like to tell you, Mr. Welch, that the United States is the superpower now, but this superpower is violating the right of populations -- this superpower is violating the rights of populations and disregarding international law. Do you think international institutions -- for its own interests, the United States is exporting the democracy of killing in Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon, and this superpower is implementing barbarian policies. So this superpower in '82 -- we all remember what it did and how they bombed Lebanon.

So, for this U.S. superpower and for the U.S. administration, we tell you: Leave us alone and leave us to build our own Lebanon, because in Lebanon there will be no place, neither for the Americans nor for anyone else. My question is: How can you explain the hostility of the Arab population against the U.S. administration?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, look, perhaps I cannot change your views about our policies. I don't agree with what she said. I don't believe that Americans historically have ever had such a view of the Arab world as you describe. Also, I have a very simple point to make to you. We are not indifferent to the loss of innocent life. There is nothing more important to anyone than their own personal security. We understand that. What surprises Americans, my friend, if I may say so, is the stunning silence that we see in the region when you kill each other. This is not a very good sign, and people are quite concerned about the indifference that you have in the area to the slaughter of your own people, as long it occurs at the hands of another.

We're not indifferent to that; perhaps you are. But it seems that your voices are very loud when it occurs at the hands of the one of the other outsiders, but when you do it yourselves, you are silent. This is not a very good moral standard and I ask you to reappraise it.

QUESTION: Mr. Welch, I think that your last answer is encouraging the youth here to respond, but I think that I will be asking the two last questions myself, and I would like to know whether Washington considers any demonstration on the streets of the Hezbollah, like in a position movement or an attempt of a coup?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I believe that political views should be exercised in a peaceful and democratic way. I don't have a view on these discussions among Lebanese in terms of their details, but it's important that dialogue proceed in an open and democratic fashion, and that means without the pressure of fear of violence or violence. We have demonstrations in the United States all the time. We have significant political disagreements and, as you know, we just went through a very interesting election; an historic one in some respects.

Americans understand when there are political differences and people argue about them and debate them or have dialogue about them, but I think when people are using the threat of violence or the threat of action on the streets, it can be a very troubling thing.

QUESTION: Mr. Welch, another question, please. What are the signs that Washington has mentioned showing that Syria and its allies are moving on the ground? Do you have any information that you can tell us about what you know about those attempts to change the situation in Lebanon.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, I mean no disrespect to anyone in Lebanon, but I think I have to be honest about this. The statements and actions of some politicians in Lebanon are ample evidence of their loyalty to the outside and not to the inside. There should be a great big note of caution as Lebanese leaders sit down to debate the future of their nation about making that future hostage to the interests of a neighboring state.

The record of Syrian interference in Lebanon is sufficiently clear for everybody. We can see it. We have a phrase here in the United States: "If it talks like a duck and walks like a duck, it is a duck." And I can certainly see ample evidence of Syria's role in this regard.

QUESTION:: Before I conclude and before I thank you for this frank dialogue with the Lebanese youth, there is an initiative that one of the participants would like to propose: Mr. Welch, could we launch an initiative as the Lebanese youth and could we meet with you anywhere, anyplace, anytime, in order to try and bring our viewpoints closer? I'm expressing here my point view and the point of view of anyone this evening in dialogue. I would think that dialogue is a vehicle that we have to meet with the U.S. administration face to face, anywhere, anytime, with you, with Secretary Rice in order to explain to you better our points of view and play this to build something for the future.

So, from this program, we would like to launch this initiative. (Inaudible) -- is here expressing his own point of view and that of some the other participants and not of all of them. Mr. Welch, are ready to respond to this initiative? And very briefly --(inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Thank you. First of all, thank you for treating my views with respect. I don't expect you to agree with all of them. I hope I have been convincing, at least on some of them. I listened to what you have to say. I respect you viewpoints. Again, I don't have to agree with all of them.

This dialogue, I believe, is good. Thank you for having me as a guest. If you will invite me in Lebanon and have me there, then I'm delighted to continue the conversation in a way that's acceptable to you and acceptable to us. I think that when you have these exchanges between people in honesty and in frankness, sometimes you can build things for the future. I'm happy to do that in any way you'd like.

QUESTION: Mr. Welch, from our program, we have launched this initiative and we are agreed in this program to sponsor this initiative if you agree and, of course, if the participants here or other young people agree and want to participate and start a dialogue, whether in Lebanon or any other country

We would like to tell you thank you. This is the first sign we have a dialogue between a sample of the Lebanese youth and a high official of the secretariat in order to tell you what's happening in the region.

We thank you, once again, Mr. Welch for speaking with us

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Thank you very much and thank you to all your viewers.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

Released on November 29, 2006

ENDS


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