The Politics of Diplomacy: Reflections on the Obama-Clinton Skirmish

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I’m just getting my feet back on the ground after a long weekend in Maine. When I left DC, we were just starting to feel the shockwaves of the Democratic debate. Five days later, it feels like they’ve only gotten stronger. The Obama and Clinton PR machines are still trying to get a boost (or contain the damage) from last week’s 90-second argument over diplomacy with rival countries.
I did some reflecting on what all this means when I was in Acadia National Park, one of the country’s most beautiful places (I thought about posting a picture of Clinton or Obama, but this shot of Acadia’s Otter Point is a much more refreshing sight in the midst of the long campaign season).
I was in a bit of a news vacuum and didn’t get to read what others were saying. So it was a nice surprise when, upon my return, much of my views were already reflected here on this blog. Steve makes two important points: first, that Clinton must not leave the impression that she won’t deal with “bad guys”; and second, that what Clinton actually said leaves a lot of room for high-level engagement with hostile countries. Sameer rightly points out that Obama never “promised” to meet with anyone, as some of his rivals have suggested.
This furor started a week ago, so part of me is tempted to let Steve’s and Sameer’s insightful comments to speak for themselves and move on. Weighing in now only contributes to the outrageous media maelstrom that currently surrounds electoral politics.
But this is one of those rare moments in which the ongoing media storm actually serves the country well. If it gets big enough, both candidates will have to make moves. For both candidates, the right moves politically are the right moves policy-wise, too.
Clinton probably got the better of the CNN debate exchange, appearing both prudent and cautious. However, her subsequent attacks on Obama have left the impression that she’s cool on diplomacy. There’s a way she can bolster her reputation as the seasoned, experienced candidate and still emphasize her commitment to diplomacy: she can outline (perhaps in an op-ed) her strategy for the U.S. to proactively start talks with some or all of the governments of Syria, Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea.
Primary voters don’t need Clinton to promise that she’ll meet every Head of State personally. They need to be reassured that a Clinton administration will come to the table instead of holding out and setting preconditions for negotiations.
For his part, Obama hasn’t yet decided how ambitious his agenda is. One moment he’s invoking the spirit of Ronald Reagan, suggesting that negotiating with adversaries has always been commonsense; the next moment, his campaign is about “turning a page.”
The Reagan/Kennedy invocations work for Obama to set the frame and he should keep using them. But let’s be honest: no presidential candidate has ever campaigned on a platform of direct, high-level talks with hostile nations.
Obama’s campaign seems to be hard-wired to avoid risk and to project moderation, but the candidate needs to resist that push and instead embrace the boldness of his idea. An “Axis of Frank Dialogue” tour would signify far more than even “turning a page.” It would mean writing a new chapter in the most progressive, revolutionary way.
What matters most to me in this skirmish is that both candidates are prepared to go to the negotiating table at some level without arrogantly suggesting that others need to ante up first, as the current administration does.
Both candidates have an opportunity to make that point in ways that reinforce their respective identities. Whether it’s Clinton’s experienced leadership or Obama’s future-oriented optimism is of secondary importance to me for the time being. What matters is that we start talking.
— Scott Paul

Comments

30 comments on “The Politics of Diplomacy: Reflections on the Obama-Clinton Skirmish

  1. MP says:

    JohnH writes: “The disparity in treatment of Clinton and Bush shows the Congress is totally beholden to something or someone else, hidden from public view.”
    What would hidden thing be?
    If the Dems don’t have the votes, they don’t have the votes.
    The Republicans (I guess) thought they had the votes. They felt they were in a much stronger position than perhaps they were. Nevertheless, Gore, who had the benefit of the Clinton record and lacked his moral terpitude, couldn’t pull off a clear victory. And we’ve had not just a Republican president, but a Republican Congress with a strong majority for most of Bush’s years.

    Reply

  2. Mr.Murder says:

    Experience, as opposed to shoe sales.
    A return to normalcy is what Clinton should advance. Put the controls back in the hands of the grown ups.
    She should contrast with Bush, unless her hawkishness desires to point out that Colin Powell is giving Obama foreign policy advisory help. Big strike against him for that one. Maybe next time, Barack.
    Edwards has a war vote to account for, which he has to the best degree possible by announcing withdrawal.
    Why are all these free market types so afraid to leave Iraq and let the market shape its outcome? Why is Hillary courting their vote? Something the grown ups do?
    By the way, Kucinich was correct from the start about Iraq.

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  3. Mr.Murder says:

    Experience, as opposed to shoe sales.
    A return to normalcy is what Clinton should advance. Put the controls back in the hands of the grown ups.
    She should contrast with Bush, unless her hawkishness desires to point out that Colin Powell is giving Obama foreign policy advisory help. Big strike against him for that one. Maybe next time, Barack.
    Edwards has a war vote to account for, which he has to the best degree possible by announcing withdrawal.
    Why are all these free market types so afraid to leave Iraq and let the market shape its outcome?
    By the way, Kucinich was correct from the start about Iraq.

    Reply

  4. Mr.Murder says:

    Experience, as opposed to shoe sales.
    A return to normalcy is what Clinton should advance. Put the controls back in the hands of the grown ups.
    She should contrast with Bush, unless her hawkishness desires to point out that Colin Powell is giving Obama foreign policy advisory help. Big strike against him for that one. Maybe next time, Barack.
    Edwards has a war vote to account for, which he has to the best degree possible by announcing withdrawal.
    Why are all these free market types so afraid to leave Iraq and let the market shape its outcome? Why is Hillary courting their vote? Something the grown ups do?
    By the way, Kucinich was correct from the start about Iraq.

    Reply

  5. Mr.Murder says:

    Experience, as opposed to shoe sales.
    A return to normalcy is what Clinton should advance. Put the controls back in the hands of the grown ups.
    She should contrast with Bush, unless her hawkishness desires to point out that Colin Powell is giving Obama foreign policy advisory help. Big strike against him for that one. Maybe next time, Barack.
    Edwards has a war vote to account for, which he has to the best degree possible by announcing withdrawal.
    Why are all these free market types so afraid to leave Iraq and let the market shape its outcome? Why is Hillary courting their vote? Something the grown ups do?
    By the way, Kucinich was correct from the start about Iraq.

    Reply

  6. Robert Morrow says:

    hey, POA, as you well know, Ron Paul is not and will not be a tool of AIPAC or any other foreign power lobbying group!
    Go to http://www.RonPaul2008.com and get involved in the Ron Paul Revolution! Ron Paul has complete credibility on the issues.

    Reply

  7. JohnH says:

    Democratic Party leaders claim they do not have the votes to pass an impeachment resolution. And they say they could be judged harshly for partisan gridlock, just as the American people turned on Congressional Republicans in the 90s for pursuing the impeachment of President Clinton.
    Democrats conveniently forget that Clinton had a 63% approval rating going into impeachment, and 73% after the article of impeachment was passed. Despite Clinton’s popularity, the Senate came within one vote of removing him. Given Clinton’s popularity and Republicans’ public-be-damned attitude, no wonder the public turned on Republicans (but not enough to prevent one from being elected President in 2000).
    How strange then Democrats would ignore public opinion and frame the Clinton precedent as a reason not to impeach: Bush’s 65% disapproval rating (within a single digit of Nixon’s highest) should make him eminently impeachable. Now it’s the Dems who have a public-be-damned attitude.
    Obviously neither public opinion nor extensive high crimes and midemeanors have anything to do with impeacment as it is conducted today. The disparity in treatment of Clinton and Bush shows the Congress is totally beholden to something or someone else, hidden from public view.

    Reply

  8. PissedOffAmerican says:

    From the AIPAC website…..
    Note how many times “peace” is mentioned in the following testimonials. Never mind that the AIPAC website is a cesspool of fearmongering about Iran, just like it was a cesspool of fearmongering about Iraq prior to the invasion. Here is an organization that is actively involved in a campaign of propaganda directed at the American people, yet both sides of the aisle heap praise and adoration at it.
    From the AIPAC website…..
    President George W. Bush
    “…You’ve always understood and warned against the evil ambition of terrorism and their networks. In a dangerous new century, your work is more vital than ever…”
    Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
    “…thank God we have AIPAC, the greatest supporter and friend that we have in the whole world. An organization made up of people who care so much…”
    Former President Bill Clinton
    “AIPAC has long been a powerful voice. We may not be able to always stop those who are gripped by hatred, but at least now because of your support, we will make a real difference in the fight against terror.”
    Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
    “Thanks to all the members of AIPAC. …On behalf of all who cherish freedom, thank you for your commitment to the ideals and values that define our two Democracies.”
    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
    “I can’t think of a policy organization in the country as well-organized or respected and the subject for which you advocate, the security of Israel, could not be more important.”
    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
    “For over half a century, AIPAC has strengthened the religious, cultural and political bonds that unite our two great nations, and I thank you for that.”
    House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer
    “…you and AIPAC matter. The strong support of the Congress…for Israel results in your hard work, and the dedication and vision of this most effective organization…”
    Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott
    “We are kindred spirits together. This is important not just for Israel; it’s important for America. It’s important for free men and women allover this world. Israel is our strongest strategic ally…”
    House Minority Leader John Boehner
    “We need your continued passion and dedication to fight these alarming trends and raise awareness that Israel’s struggle is our struggle.”
    Senator Hillary Clinton
    “So what you are doing today is not only on behalf of AIPAC, not only on behalf of Israel… It is truly on behalf of the kind of world we want for our children…”
    House Minority Whip Roy Blunt
    “AIPAC keeps the attention on the issues that you and I care about.”
    Senator Barack Obama
    “Peace with security. That is the Israeli people’s overriding wish. That is AIPAC’s overriding wish.”
    Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani
    “…I can’t thank you enough for all the good work that AIPAC has done over the years. Now you’re more important than ever…”
    Senator John Kerry
    “…we need AlPAC’s unwavering voice on this long and winding road to peace… And the journey is harder now than it was a year ago, harder than it was a month ago, harder than it was a few weeks or days ago…”
    Senator John McCain
    “Just as America is deeply fortunate to have a close friend in Israel, Israel is privileged to have a supporter in AIPAC.”
    Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin
    “…the support of the U.S. government…and the support of the American Jewish community for Israel has identity card. The name on that card is AIPAC.”
    Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
    “Since the founding, 55 years ago, AIPAC has proven a close friend to Israel… AIPAC’s continued support is more important now than ever before.”
    http://www.aipac.org/about_AIPAC/Learn_About_AIPAC/default_1596.asp

    Reply

  9. PissedOffAmerican says:

    When this piece of shit Obama described his reasons for not supporting impeachment, he said….
    “I think you reserve impeachment for grave, grave breaches, and intentional breaches of the president’s authority”
    Now, just what the fuck does Obama think constitutes “intentional breaches of the president’s authority”?? Fact is, if Obama doesn’t think Bush has met that bar, than we have to assume that Obama will hold himself to the same low standard.
    That one sentence, quoted above, disqualifies Obama for ANY public office.

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  10. Sandy says:

    I’m with you, Carroll. It’s hopeless. Nothing short of burning the whole place down and starting completely over will make an ounce of difference.
    Everyone — who will be “allowed” to run — has been bought.

    Reply

  11. Brigitte N. says:

    Obviously, Obama has listen to the relentless attacks by Rudy Giuliani on Democrats, he speaks of the “party of losers” and charges that Democrats deny the existence of the global Islamic terrorist threat.
    Obama and Clinton and the other Democrats should stop attacking each other and pay attention to what Giuliani and other Republicans say. These guys repeat the old charge that Democrats are soft on terrorism. The latest Gallup poll shows that this tactics seems to work–far more Americans trust Giuliani (69%) and McCain (66%) than Clinton (55%) and Obama (53%) to handle terrorism

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  12. MP says:

    Carroll quotes Obama: “As President, I will create a Shared Security Partnership Program to forge an international intelligence and law enforcement infrastructure to take down terrorist networks from the remote islands of Indonesia, to the sprawling cities of Africa. This program will provide $5 billion over three years for counter-terrorism cooperation with countries around the world…”
    Actually, this doesn’t sound too bad to me…hardly shades of George. One of the tragedies of GWB is that he has discredited ALL counter-terrorism activity. The fact that they are a minority doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous and need to be countered.

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  13. MP says:

    JohnH writes: “Exactly what are we trying to accomplish by engaging in diplocmacy or not? If only we knew that, then we could develop a coherent foreign policy strategy.”
    I agree with this entirely. It’s a question the nation needs to debate: What are our national interests; how should we pursue them? But I don’t think you can expect any of the candidates to respond in ways that will satisfy you–in part because they don’t accept the premise of your assertion (see below), so they aren’t going to cop to it.
    “They prefer to demonize a country, attack it, and let us find out later that it was all a mistake–just like the wars in Vietnam and Iraq.”
    In other words, no one is going to say this is what they are doing or want to do.

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  14. MP says:

    Carroll writes: “This is so funny..who do they think is going to check all those Federal ID’s every time the 17 million boats and 70 million boaters motor off or set sail on our 95,000 miles of coastline?”
    Exactly. And who do they think is going to hunt down 12 million illegals and haul them over the border to Mexico.
    Funniest story I’ve read in a while takes place in one of our VA counties where local government has decided to do what the federal government has been unable to do: Get rid of all their illegal aliens. Problem is, of course, that a legal Latino looks like an illegal one (pretty much). Anyway, the Latinos–mostly legal–have organized and called for a boycott of all local, non- Latino businesses. But the punchline was the name of the organization…a true stroke of genius: Mexicans Without Borders.

    Reply

  15. Carroll says:

    You call this projecting moderation? Hah!
    “Excerpts from Obama’s Foreign Policy speech:”
    “Because of a war in Iraq that should never have been authorized and should never have been waged, we are now less safe than we were before 9/11.”
    “Just because the President misrepresents our enemies does not mean we do not have them. The terrorists are at war with us. The threat is from violent extremists who are a small minority of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims, but the threat is real. They distort Islam. They kill man, woman and child; Christian and Hindu, Jew and Muslim. They seek to create a repressive caliphate. To defeat this enemy, we must understand who we are fighting against, and what we are fighting for.”
    “The President would have us believe that every bomb in Baghdad is part of al Qaeda’s war against us, not an Iraqi civil war. He elevates al Qaeda in Iraq – which didn’t exist before our invasion – and overlooks the people who hit us on 9/11, who are training new recruits in Pakistan. He lumps together groups with very different goals: al Qaeda and Iran, Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents. He confuses our mission. “
    “By refusing to end the war in Iraq, President Bush is giving the terrorists what they really want, and what the Congress voted to give them in 2002: a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.”
    “When I am President, we will wage the war that has to be won, with a comprehensive strategy with five elements: getting out of Iraq and on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing the capabilities and partnerships we need to take out the terrorists and the world’s most deadly weapons; engaging the world to dry up support for terror and extremism; restoring our values; and securing a more resilient homeland.”
    “I would deploy at least two additional brigades to Afghanistan to re-enforce our counter-terrorism operations and support NATO’s efforts against the Taliban…. We must not, however, repeat the mistakes of Iraq. The solution in Afghanistan is not just military – it is political and economic. As President, I would increase our non-military aid by $1 billion.”
    “There must be no safe-haven for terrorists who threaten America. We cannot fail to act because action is hard.”
    “As President, I would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional, and I would make our conditions clear: Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters, and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan. “
    “I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.”
    “As President, I will create a Shared Security Partnership Program to forge an international intelligence and law enforcement infrastructure to take down terrorist networks from the remote islands of Indonesia, to the sprawling cities of Africa. This program will provide $5 billion over three years for counter-terrorism cooperation with countries around the world…”
    >>>>>>>
    More “wur” against terriers.
    Enemies! Enemies!…over there!, No wait, over there! Opps, no,not “that” country, “that” country! Quick, more wur, more money!
    Out of Iraq and into more wur in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and “remote islands of Indonesia, to the sprawling cities of Africa.”
    No “safe haven” for terriers..shades of George.
    More “hundreds of millions, more billions. Trillions. More agencies, more programs, more aid….ad nasum.
    And all for ” a small minority” of radicals?????
    Utter crap bullshit. I am so sick of these fear pander pussies and little polyester “great cause “”Wur” would be pres-i-dents I could throw up. Obama is a f****** idiot. They are all f****** idiots. Every time they open their gd mouths they create more problems. Burn the f****** world down for “a small minority of radicals”.
    I give up. We are toast.

    Reply

  16. ... says:

    america looks to be getting what some might think they deserve. i like howit all looks so ‘business as usual’. political pundits like steve help keep it that way too, with the focus on hilary and obama.. it is quite pathetic actually, which is why many folks seek alternative media… steves site seems less and less alternative and more and more mainstream.

    Reply

  17. Cletus Cob says:

    Clinton vs. Obama with Edwards pulling up the rear. Giulianni vs. Mr. Snit with McCain pulling up his pants. Crappy offerings for a disgruntled American citizenry. The two parties offer not so much. Is this ALL the Dems or the Repubs can offer? Oh groan and abysmally disheartening. Maybe America could convince Kofi Annan to come here and pinch hit for our “profiles in banality.”

    Reply

  18. Carroll says:

    http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0801/p03s03-ussc.html
    heheheh…remember Jane Harman’s post about security for our shoreline? Well it seems DHS wants to require private boaters to have a Federal ID.
    This is so funny..who do they think is going to check all those Federal ID’s every time the 17 million boats and 70 million boaters motor off or set sail on our 95,000 miles of coastline? What are they gonna do, set up check out points at every dock in the nation? Require dockmasters to oversee the checkouts? Hire someone to check out ID’s at public boat ramps? What about private docks?
    Ridiculous. Just another fee scheme.

    Reply

  19. PJS says:

    Last August, as the election campaigns gathered steam (steam it was called, but fog it was), I got a four-page “Hillary Wants To Know” kind of direct mail piece from Clintonia. It asked for the usual stuff: my opinions, my priorities, my money.
    What most interested me, however, was that in those four pages, in a political instrument geared to the November, 2006 elections, not once did the word “Iraq” appear. Not once.

    Reply

  20. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “However, Hillary, Obama and Edwards are all drinking the same reality altering stuff on Iran.”
    Hillary and Obama aren’t “drinking” the Kool-Aid about Iran. Actually, they’re helping to sell it. Both of these people are unfit for the Presidency.

    Reply

  21. JohnH says:

    The main difference between Hillary and Obama on foreign policy is that Hillary drank the kool aid and had no regrets, except for how it all went down. And for the mismanagement she blames Bush. Obama saw through the BS.
    However, Hillary, Obama and Edwards are all drinking the same reality altering stuff on Iran. And some drinkers become more belligerent than others. But worse than their drinking habits, they are supporting increased military spending. For what? Where’s the justification? Where’s the credible threat? Iran? Surely, you jest!!!
    But when the military obtains all those new gadgets, you just know that sooner or later, usually sooner, somebody is going to want to use them. Then we’ll be back into the cycle of demonization, attack, “oops it was all a tragic mistake, if only our intelligence had better…” But none will offer regrets or apologies.
    Don’t look for leadership and substantive discussion to come from think tanks. As Anatol Lieven once said, “People at the think tanks have courage somewhere between a sea slug and sheep-guts…”

    Reply

  22. Jon Stopa says:

    I don’t see anything important here. Stupid gotcha stuff. We’ll look back at this and scratch our heads. What was this all about? Remarks made on the fly about complex stuff that doesn’t fit into a couple of sound bites.
    Make way for really, really important stuff, like Edwards hair, or Clinton’s V-neck!

    Reply

  23. Carroll says:

    Come to think about it….what has Hillary “led” on exactly during her term?
    Campaign reform?
    Ethic in congress?
    Lobbying restrictions?
    Iraq?
    What?
    From all I can see, although I may be missing some, Hillary has spent most of her time trying to play Miss Popular bipartisan in the senate.
    I think she is too,too careful and cool and too correct and too same old, same old…to the point of what the hell exactly does she stand for “beside the usual” and things like health care everyone in the dems already stands for?
    Does anyone want more of the same old kind of politican? Same old system, same old ‘political” deal makers, same old, same old, same old.
    It’s gotten old. And as we see, while the same old works for the politicans, it doesn’t work any longer for the country.

    Reply

  24. Carroll says:

    Experience?….means to me the same old establishment “experience”.
    How many of the experienced people exhibited good judgement on Iraq? How many even questioned or investigated what they were told or not told.
    You mean to tell me that 90% of them didn’t know what they were dealing with in Bush and neo’s from the git go…from the day he appointed Elliot Abrams and all the rest? Plezzzzzzze.
    I’ll take the good judgement, thanks.

    Reply

  25. Carroll says:

    Posted by JohnH at July 31, 2007 07:20 PM
    >>>>>>>>>
    Ditto again.

    Reply

  26. ... says:

    i agree with poa..

    Reply

  27. Corinne says:

    The Reagan/Kennedy invocations work for Obama
    Are you referring to the Reagan whose first speech after the 1980 convention was in Philadelphia, MS? Or “Reagan’s penchant for telling ‘whoppers’–wildly inaccurate statistics or supposedly true stories that were easily exposed as exaggerations or falsehoods–as evidence of the man’s unfitness to be taken seriously.” Like the ‘welfare queen’ in Chicago who supposedly collected public assistance under 100 names but who really didn’t exist.
    “Reagan’s whoppers were … always about the deeper meaning of America, both what was right with America and what was wrong with America. That’s why the accuracy of his whoppers was always secondary to their teaching, which resonated deeply with Americans who had grown disaffected with the leadership of the nation.”
    You mean that Ronald Reagan? I think the Obama campaign has developed a convenient amnesia when it comes to invoking Reaganesque images.
    As for JFK, no. Just no. Not even RFK.

    Reply

  28. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Experienced leadership” or “future oriented optimism”.
    Eenie meenie, minie moe….
    What a wheelbarrow load of unadulterated horseshit. This crap is just as disgusting as the right’s sales campaigns are.

    Reply

  29. JohnH says:

    As usual, this discussion focuses on process without no reference to substance. Like Dick Cheney’s hunting accident: “ready, fire, aim.” Exactly what are we trying to accomplish by engaging in diplocmacy or not? If only we knew that, then we could develop a coherent foreign policy strategy. Of course, that is the last thing that the candidates, the media, the foreign policy elite, and national security mafia want us to discuss. They prefer to demonize a country, attack it, and let us find out later that it was all a mistake–just like the wars in Vietnam and Iraq.
    For those who doubt that this deception and diversion is the standard operating procedure of American foreign policy since World War II, I encourage you see “War Made Easy:” http://www.theconnextion.com/index.cfm?ArtistID=422&NoFrame=Yes&RefID=10
    So could we have a little substance here instead of simply assuming that everyone agrees on the importance of those mysterious, vital strategic interests? Once we know that, we can decide whether to engage diplomatically or simply let sleeping dogs lie.

    Reply

  30. lina says:

    Why does Clinton get labled with “experienced leadership” when she’s been the wife of a politician and a 1.5 term Senator? I don’t get it. She voted “yes” on the worst geopolitical strategic blunder in U.S. history, yet we are supposed to believe she is smarter than Obama on foreign policy? Please.

    Reply

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