FPI Overnight Brief: July 12, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Iran
 
Josh Rogin reports: Republicans in Congress are pressing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to change his tune on the Iran deal. They want him not to certify that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal it struck with the United States and five other nations, which could pave the way for Congress restoring various sanctions. – Washington Post
 
Tzvi Kahn writes: In the coming months, it should increase sanctions on Iran for its domestic repression, with a particular focus on Iran’s telecommunications sector, which received sanctions relief under the 2015 nuclear deal. Nizar Zakka’s latest hunger strike, President Trump should make clear, must be his last. – Foundation for Defense of Democracies
 
Syria
 
Two Americans fighting alongside Kurdish forces in northern Syria were killed last week as the battle to retake the Islamic State’s de-facto capital there continues well into its second month. – Washington Post
 
A confidential U.S.-Russian cease-fire agreement for southwestern Syria that went into effect Sunday calls for barring Iranian-backed foreign fighters from a strategic stretch of Syrian territory near the borders of Israel and Jordan, according to three diplomatic sources. – Foreign Policy
 
A fragile ceasefire may have taken hold in Syria but the country’s airspace — crowded with Russian, U.S., Syrian, and coalition warplanes — is as dangerous as ever, the commander of U.S. Air Combat Command says. – Defense One
 
The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group may increase airstrikes and overhead surveillance support for the fight to retake Raqqa, Syria, now that the militants have been largely defeated in Mosul, Iraq, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq said Tuesday. – Associated Press
 
Charles Lister writes: The U.S. must urgently assume a more long-term view when it comes to Syria, based on a continued and genuine commitment to the idea of a negotiated settlement that includes as much of the opposition as possible. By sticking to the short-term vision pursued today, we risk having to intervene again in Syria further down the line, when the consequences of our limited approach come back to haunt us. By then, our options will be even more limited and risk-laden than they are today. – The Daily Beast
 
Iraq
 
The day after announcing Islamic State’s defeat in Mosul, Iraqis turned to the enormous challenges of rebuilding and resettling the country’s second-largest city. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Iraq therefore stands at a pivotal moment. There is potential for serious economic reform to drive reconstruction, and thereby build a pathway for stabilizing the liberated territories. There is also a serious possibility that bureaucratic paralysis and corruption will undermine reform, prevent investment from entering the liberated areas, and that, without jobs or services, insurgency will renew with a vengeance. For now, international investors and foreign governments are cautious, waiting to see whether the investment environment improves. In the meantime, Iraq’s future is in Iraqi hands. – Defense One
 
Tal Afar will be targeted next in the roll-up of remaining ISIS enclaves in Iraq following victory in the terror group's last major stronghold of Mosul, Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said Tuesday. – Military.com
 
The defeat of the Islamic State in its self-declared capital of Mosul does not mean U.S. troops will be coming home anytime soon, and instead, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said some U.S. troops will likely remain there indefinitely in order to avoid the mistakes of the Obama administration by declaring victory too soon. – Washington Examiner
 
The top U.S. general in Iraq on Tuesday rebuffed claims from the human rights group Amnesty International that U.S.-led coalition strikes in Mosul violated international law. – The Hill
 
Iraqi forces clashed with Islamic State fighters holding out in Mosul's Old City on Wednesday, more than 36 hours after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over the militants in the de facto Iraqi capital of their self-declared caliphate. - Reuters
 
Islamic State has captured most of a village south of Mosul despite losing control of its stronghold in the city, an Iraqi army officer and residents said, deploying guerrilla-style tactics as its self-proclaimed caliphate crumbles. - Reuters
 
Editorial: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory Monday over Islamic State in Mosul, and Americans can also take pride at the end of a bloody three-year campaign that would not have happened without U.S. leadership and arms. The triumph will be short-lived, however, if the Baghdad government and U.S. repeat the mistakes they made after the successful “surge” of 2007-2008. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Seth Jones writes: Islamic State’s predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq, began to reconstitute itself in 2011 in part because of Baghdad’s failure to address Sunni grievances and Washington’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces and inability to influence Iraqi politics. It would be doubly tragic to make the same mistake again today. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
ISIS
 
A group that monitors the war in Syria said Tuesday it has “confirmed information” about the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, citing information received from the militants in eastern Syria. – Washington Post
 
The end game has arrived. In Syria, the U.S.-backed campaign to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State is nearing its final chapter. And yet the rifts inside the United States government about what to do next, as ISIS falls, are as evident in President Donald Trump’s administration as they were many months ago in Obama’s. The questions about the long-term have yet to be answered. – Defense One
 
ISIS shifted rapidly from a narrative of resilience to victimization as it was squeezed out of Mosul, once its de facto capital in Iraq. Where the group previously touted battlefield victories, it began criticizing U.S.-led forces for killing civilians and destroying infrastructure. – Washington Free Beacon
 
The Islamic State group's mix of a local insurgency and digitally connected global jihadis gives the group staying power and the means to relaunch its future, from small cells of extremists escaping the war zone in Iraq and Syria to those who never went there in the first place. – Associated Press
 
David Ignatius writes: What lessons can we take from the Islamic State’s defeat in Mosul and its coming eviction from Raqqa? The collapse of the caliphate tells us that the United States can succeed militarily in the Middle East if — and probably only if — it works with local forces who are prepared to do the fighting and dying. – Washington Post
 
North Africa
 
Sen. John McCain vowed Tuesday that Congress will restore Tunisian aid cuts that were proposed by President Trump as a top official said U.S. support is critical to keep reforms alive and spur new economic growth. – Washington Times
 
Morocco's general prosecutor said he would investigate the leaking of a video of a detained protest leader from the northern Rif region that has sparked widespread anger and accusations he had been abused. - Reuters
 
Arabian Peninsula
 
The United Nations said on Tuesday that it was suspending plans for a cholera vaccination campaign in Yemen — reversing a decision made a month ago — because the disease’s rampant spread and the ravages of war there would make such an effort ineffective. – New York Times
 
In a not very subtle display of why the United States wants the Persian Gulf countries to quit feuding and concentrate on what’s important, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday signed an agreement to work with Qatar to curtail terrorism financing. – Washington Post
 
While U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Doha this week, the Qataris have launched a public relations campaign in Washington to garner support in its fight against the three-country blockade. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
 
Qatar’s agreement with the US to combat terrorism financing is “not enough”, the Arab states imposing economic sanctions on the country have warned. – Financial Times
 
Levant
 
The Lebanese army has killed a man suspected of links to Islamic State and of carrying out bomb attacks in the town of Ras Baalbek near the Syrian border, a security source and a military source said on Tuesday. - Reuters
 
Turkey
 
Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Muslim cleric accused by Turkey of instigating last year's failed coup, says he has no plans to flee the United States and would accept extradition if Washington agrees to a request by Ankara to hand him over. - Reuters
 
Turkey issued detention warrants on Wednesday for 34 former personnel of the state-owned broadcaster TRT in an investigation targeting supporters of the U.S.-based cleric accused of being behind last July's failed coup, state media said. - Reuters

Asia

South Asia
 
India’s Supreme Court has suspended a controversial ban on the trade of cattle for slaughter that critics said unfairly targets the country’s meat and leather industry and its predominantly Muslim and lower-caste workers. – Washington Post
 
Pakistan’s prime minister is facing the greatest threat yet to his political career after an investigation found he deliberately hid money from the tax authorities and owned assets for which he could not account. – Financial Times
 
Michele Flournoy and Richard Fontaine write: If President Trump is going to send additional Americans into harm’s way, he needs to take ownership of the effort and make the case to the American people. He should explain the theory of success, the stakes and why, after all these years, America’s longest war must persist. – The National Interest
 
China
 
As the life ebbs from Liu Xiaobo, China’s most famous dissident and only Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a battle is shaping up over his life, his legacy, his words and maybe even his remains. – New York Times
 
The health of the Chinese Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo is worsening, with his liver, kidney and breathing functions failing, the hospital that is treating him said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. – New York Times
 
In a move intended to show military loyalty before a government reshuffle later this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping has his troops to call him “chairman,”  according to Nikkei Asian Review. – Defense News
 
Editorial: The government that imprisoned Mr. Liu for his beliefs and failed to ensure his health can’t ask the world to trust that it will give him the best care. Mr. Liu’s request for treatment in Germany offers him the chance to spend more time with his wife Liu Xia, who has been held under house arrest for seven years. China’s greatest democracy advocate deserves to spend his last days in freedom so the world can hear the final testimony to his struggle. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
North Korea
 
Senators from both sides of the aisle are hoping to move quickly on legislation that would put further economic pressure on North Korea in the aftermath of the country’s first successful launch of a long-range ballistic missile. – Roll Call
 
Chinese denials of "responsibility" to curb North Korea's nuclear weapons program met with a curt dismissal from the State Department – Washington Examiner
 
Mike Rogers writes: When looking at North Korea, it is too easy to mock the idiosyncrasies of Pyongyang and its leadership, but doing so is irresponsible. It is time that we collectively recognize the threat that North Korea presents: an irrational leader, armed with nuclear weapons, rapidly working toward fielding ICBMs. Taken together, North Korea is real threat to the United States and the world, but one against which we can and must defend ourselves. – Defense News
 
Richard Haass writes: Diplomacy may fail once more. This is not to argue against trying, as it would be important to show it has been explored before turning to alternatives. To be sure, the main alternatives — living with a North Korea that poses a direct threat to the United States or attacking it knowing a large and costly war could ensue — are each even more unattractive, if for different reasons. But this could well be the choice we will need to make, a reality that argues for at least exploring diplomacy first. – USA Today
 
East Asia
 
Chinese aircraft carrier the Liaoning entered Taiwan's air defense identification zone early on Wednesday morning on its way back from Hong Kong and is being monitored, Taiwan's defense ministry said, adding there was no cause for alarm. - Reuters
 
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cherished goal of revising Japan's pacifist constitution has become more difficult to achieve after a plunge in his popularity and the erosion of public trust, a ruling party lawmaker said on Wednesday. - Reuters
 
Southeast Asia
 
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday that a disastrous siege by Islamic State group-aligned militants of a southern city may end in 10 to 15 days but warned that the threat posed by the brutal group will continue to plague the country. – Associated Press

Security

Defense
 
Amidst a bipartisan lovefest of a confirmation hearing, Navy Secretary nominee Richard  Spencer quietly and consistently downplayed the idea of a 355-ship fleet. The Navy now has 276 ships from supercarriers to minesweepers, President Trump promised 350 on the campaign trail, and the Chief of Naval Operations has officially assessed that he needs 355. But Trump’s pick to be the CNO’s boss didn’t seem committed to that number. – Breaking Defense
 
Nominee Richard V. Spencer stressed leadership accountability, the power of technology and acquisition reform in his two hours of questions and answers before the panel. – USNI News
 
The U.S. Navy's requirements for a new guided-missile frigate hit the street Monday with a request for information that blew the competition for the new ship design wide open. – Defense News
 
Outspoken Littoral Combat Ship and frigate critic Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said today he is “cautiously optimistic” after reading the Navy’s first official account of what the updated frigate requirements may look like, according to a statement from his office. – USNI News
 
The Pentagon’s projected total cost for buying the F-35 shot up by $27.5 billion from 2015 to 2016, a spike mostly driven by slower-than-expected U.S. Air Force procurement, the program office announced. – Defense News
 
Just hours before the worst Marine Corps aviation crash in more than a decade, the Corps' top general for aviation released a retirement letter that outlined his concerns about the troubled state of the aviation fleet and the struggle to keep its planes and helicopters flying. – Military Times
 
The Senate Armed Services Committee wants to change existing law to force the sitting undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics to reapply for a new job once the AT&L office disappears in February. – Defense News
 
The Air Force is upgrading computer and communications technology for its B-2 stealth bomber so the aircraft is prepared to execute attack missions in the event of nuclear war. – Scout Warrior
 
Strategic Issues
 
The U.S. Congress is moving decisively to start dismantling some of the bedrock agreements of U.S.-Russian arms control, reflecting the dangerous state of relations between Washington and Moscow and raising the specter of a new arms race. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
The United States said on Tuesday it shot down a simulated, incoming intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) similar to the ones being developed by countries like North Korea, in a new test of the nation's THAAD missile defenses. - Reuters
 
The War
 
Six of the 10 airports that faced the laptop ban have already improved their screening enough to earn their way off the ban list, Homeland Security announced Tuesday as it tries to raise the global level of explosives screening. – Washington Times
 
U.S. families of terrorism victims have opened up a new legal battle against social media companies, arguing the websites are breaking anti-terrorism laws by letting themselves be used by the Islamic State for recruitment and propaganda. – Washington Times
 
Cybersecurity
 
The Trump administration has discouraged government agencies from using a leading Russian cybersecurity firm’s software amid fears that the firm's products could serve as a Trojan horse for the Kremlin's hackers. - Politico
 
Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Tuesday that “state-sponsored” or criminal hackers are targeting U.S. nuclear power plants and other energy providers, but said the government has resources to safeguard the nation’s electric grid. – Associated Press
 
Rodgin Cohen and John Evangelakos write: A new federal office for cybersecurity can provide the unification, collaboration, coherence, skills and leadership to implement a comprehensive policy that counters the existential cyber threats America must confront. Too much is at stake to ignore the problem any longer. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Russia/Europe

Ukraine
 
President Petro Poroshenko has proposed incorporating an internationally recognized investigator into the Ukrainian team investigating the killing of journalist Pavel Sheremet, in hopes of jumpstarting a probe that has produced no significant leads in a year. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
A Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report is critical of a Ukrainian investigation into the killing of journalist Pavel Sheremet, with no arrests in the case and more questions than answers nearly one year after his car-bomb death in Kyiv. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
A Ukrainian court has adjourned Viktor Yanukovych's in-absentia treason trial until August 3 after the former president's new lawyer asked for more time to prepare. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
Ukraine’s prime minister on Tuesday has appealed to Ryanair to resume talks over flights to the country as a domestic political row escalated over the airline’s decision to cancel its plans. – Financial Times
 
Melinda Haring writes: The space for meaningful change is shrinking, and fatigue and cynicism are widespread. But the country still has a chance. Kiev must push ahead now with the next round of urgently needed reforms, and the IMF should hold them to it. – Washington Post
 
Russia
 
The United States and Russia will hold a high-level meeting in Washington Monday to discuss “so-called irritants” in their relationship, the State Department announced Tuesday. – Washington Post
 
Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. last year to discuss possible compromising material on the Democrats, has been widely depicted as a one-issue activist consumed with getting Congress to repeal sanctions against Russian businessmen. But lawyers and others in Moscow’s legal community called her a trusted insider, one who could be counted on to argue and win important high-profile court cases that matter to the government and to one senior, well-connected official in particular. – New York Times
 
Veselnitskaya’s role has raised questions about how close she is to the Kremlin, and why the Trump campaign — which has denied colluding with Moscow — agreed to a meeting with a person described to them as a Russian government attorney who could provide information detrimental to Clinton. The lawyer told The Washington Post in an interview Tuesday that she has no connection to the Kremlin. – Washington Post
 
What began as a bill slapping sanctions on Iran for ballistic missile development and human rights violations is being mired in minutiae over a single added word—“Russia.” Leadership in both chambers and parties have expressed resolve about passing sanctions on the Kremlin. But the joint Russia-Iran legislation has repeatedly hit difficulties, in part due to the politically charged nature of its subject. – The Weekly Standard
 
House Republicans could pass a legislative package mandating broad new sanctions on Russia within "days," according to Rep. Mark Meadows. – Washington Examiner
 
Increasingly angry NATO allies will tell the Kremlin on Thursday of their objection to aggressive and dangerous maneuvers by Russian military pilots over the Baltic Sea, including “unsafe behavior by Russian pilots on intercepts,” an alliance official said. - Politico
 
A new — and likely more aggressive — chapter in Russian diplomacy is about to begin in Washington with the departure of Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, whose soft-power approach to D.C. will be taken over by noted hardliner Anatoly Antonov. - Politico
 
Siemens has filed a lawsuit against a Russian state company and against its own Russian affiliate as the German engineering group tries to stop the use of its turbines in Crimea in violation of EU sanctions. – Financial Times
 
Europe
 
U.S. President Donald Trump's state visit to the United Kingdom, initially planned for this year, will be delayed until next year, a senior U.S. administration official said on Tuesday. - Reuters
 
The Dutch Senate passed a law early on Wednesday giving intelligence agencies broad new surveillance and other powers, including the ability to gather data from large groups of people at once. - Reuters
 
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama writes: Leaders of the six Western Balkan nations gather in Trieste, Italy, on Wednesday for the annual Berlin Process conference. It will be an opportunity not only to discuss pathways of integration into the European Union, but also to heal wounds, unite behind an idea and, critically, create a new platform for economic growth. We will be asked to support, among other things, the formation of a regional economic area. I will be arguing in its favor. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Americas

United States of America
 
Questions about Wray’s ability to be an independent leader, resistant to political pressures, are expected to dominate his hearing Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee to become the FBI’s eighth director. He would take over an agency still reeling from President Trump’s abrupt firing of Comey less than four years into the director’s 10-year term. – Washington Post
 
The Navy fired a civilian whistleblower who uncovered life-threatening safety risks to pilots and others from the improper testing of aircraft fueling equipment and jet fuel itself that could degrade aircraft engines, cause engine surging and, in worst-case scenarios, flameouts. – Washington Free Beacon
 
A U.S. federal judge blocked the deportation of 1,400 Iraqi nationals arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement last month while courts review the orders to remove them from the country. – Washington Examiner
 
An Iranian cancer researcher who was detained at Boston's Logan International Airport has been sent back to his home country. – Associated Press
 
Editorial: The need and logic for a new FBI headquarters remain undiminished. But making the case for it any time in the foreseeable future will now be that much more difficult owing to Mr. Trump’s toxic commentary and gratuitous disrespect. In an era of heightened domestic security threats, what could be more foolhardy and self-defeating than undercutting the FBI? – Washington Post
 
Editorial: Mr. Trump wants to unleash U.S. oil and gas production, which properly deployed can undercut Vladimir Putin’s petro-dollar revenue at home and his political leverage over European energy markets. It makes no sense to kneecap U.S. energy production in the rest of the world in a bill aimed at sanctioning Russia. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Russian Election Interference
 
The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton. – New York Times
 
Donald Trump Jr.’s willingness to accept incriminating information about Hillary Clinton — even when he was told the material was “part of Russia and its government’s support” for his father — could put him or others in legal jeopardy, though investigators would probably have to do more work to substantiate criminal charges, analysts said. – Washington Post
 
Bipartisan members of the Senate’s lead probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election are clamoring for the testimony of President Donald Trump’s eldest son into new revelations that he meet last year with a Kremlin-linked lawyer — a meeting he has denounced as a “big yawn.” – Washington Times
 
The Russian lawyer who peddled dirt on Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump Jr. has ties to former Russian military and intelligence officials, a key congressional committee will hear in testimony next week. – The Daily Beast
 
The chairman of the House National Security Subcommittee is calling on the Department of Justice to launch a formal investigation into former FBI Director James Comey's alleged leak of classified information, according to an exclusive interview with the Washington Free Beacon in which the lawmaker also called on the Trump administration to purge all former Obama administration holdovers from government. – Washington Free Beacon
 
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday he’s concerned about whether Russia has compromising material about meetings with Trump campaign aides that could be used to influence the president. - Politico
 
Josh Rogin reports: This week’s revelations about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer have shined a new spotlight on a small Washington opposition research firm that worked with her on a legal case for years and then subsequently commissioned a dossier full of salacious allegations of the Russian government’s attempts to collude with the Trump presidential campaign. – Washington Post
 
Rogin also reports: Amid all the controversy over Russian hacking, interference and propaganda efforts in the United States and Europe, there’s a growing concern among national security leaders that not enough is being done to stop the efforts. That’s why a large group of senior figures from both parties is launching a new effort to track and ultimately counter Russian political meddling, cyber-mischief and fake news. – Washington Post
 
Editorial: Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), must finally decide: Is this really okay? Are they really prepared to debase themselves in defense of a president whose closest advisers may have welcomed underhanded interference in America’s election from a hostile foreign power? – Washington Post
 
Editorial: You don’t need to think that Trump and his campaign aides colluded with Russia to throw the election to believe that Russian government officials tried to manipulate it. There is no doubt, moreover, that the Kremlin has armed Bashar al-Assad’s regime in a successful bid to establish a client state in the Middle East and undermine American interests there, and that the Russian army has waged war inside the borders of Ukraine, an American ally. – The Weekly Standard
 
Latin America
 
Brazil’s embattled President Michel Temer was given a confidence boost on Tuesday after the Senate passed a government-sponsored labour reform. But his political survival is far from assured as he battles corruption charges that could force another Brazilian president from office for the second time in just over a year. – Financial Times

Africa

West Africa
 
Suicide bombers killed 17 people and injured 21 in the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, the police commissioner of Borno state said on Wednesday. - Reuters
 
Nigeria's Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has returned to Abuja after a brief and unexplained visit to President Muhammadu Buhari, who is on sick leave in London, his spokesman said on Twitter on Wednesday. - Reuters
 
East Africa
 
Donald Trump has given himself an additional three months to permanently revoke sweeping economic sanctions on Sudan, ducking a decision at a time when there is loud opposition and a dearth of Africa appointments in key US departments. – Financial Times
 
China has 750 peacekeepers in South Sudan and more than 2,000 in Africa as a whole, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia — a bigger deployment than any other permanent member of the UN Security Council. That Beijing has been willing to put lives at risk so far afield shows how its economic ambitions have morphed into political involvement, straining a decades-old strategy of non-interference in foreign affairs. – Financial Times
 
Ships carrying personnel for China's first overseas military base, in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, have set sail to begin setting up the facility, as China's rapidly modernizing military extends its global reach. - Reuters
 
Central/Southern Africa
 
The United States on Tuesday threatened to impose further targeted unilateral sanctions on anyone who hinders Democratic Republic of Congo's already delayed preparations for an election to replace President Joseph Kabila. - Reuters
 
Zambian President Edgar Lungu may revoke emergency powers before they expire in 90 days if there is an end to the "acts of sabotage" they were meant to quell, his spokesman said on Wednesday. - Reuters

Trump Administration

Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain, a key congressional gatekeeper for Pentagon nominees, said he does not want the Trump administration to nominate any more executives from the top five defense firms to run the Pentagon. – Defense News
 
At a Tuesday morning confirmation hearing for Marine veteran and businessman Richard V. Spencer, nominee for secretary of the Navy, it was quickly clear that he would sail through the approval process. – Military.com

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