Tag: Balkans

Excellent guide to a decaying enterprise

My friend Harry Kopp and his co-author John Naland have encountered a perfect storm in launching their third edition of Career Diplomacy: Life and Work in the US Foreign Service just as interest in State Department careers collapses and the institution itself goes through unanticipated trials in a new Administration that took office after the manuscript was finalized. It’s a shame the likely market of Foreign Service aspirants has contracted, because this book is a fine testament to the glories and challenges of Foreign Service life. It really is a life, not just a career.

Caveat emptor: I spent 21 years committed to it, moving my family every few years and occasionally risking life and limb in service to the United States. Mine were admittedly great posts: Brasilia once and Rome thrice, plus being Sarajevo’s most frequent visitor during the last year of the Bosnian war and two stints at the State Department working on global energy and later European issues. Harry Kopp was my deputy chief of mission in Brasilia. We also went to the same big high school but didn’t know each other then.

You won’t find a better or more readable account of the US Foreign Service as an institution, profession, and career than this. I’ve delayed publishing this review because I found the book so interesting I read it all with some care. You’d think 21 years would suffice for me to become my own expert and able to skip a few things, but I still found this book put things in a structure that enlightens. It also includes vignettes based on interviews with active duty and recently retired diplomats that illustrate in personal terms important themes.

Harry and John Naland, whom I don’t know, are keenly aware of the Foreign Service’s not always illustrious history and try to keep it in focus as they discuss its present and possible future. Even without the Trump Administration, there were already a big question marks:  what is to become of an institution, profession and career in the digital age of wide open access to information, an age when women and minorities are claiming their rights and everyone is expecting better and more equal treatment? How does diplomacy deal with civil war, insurgency and terrorism, all of which are a far cry from the state-to-state relations that traditionally dominate diplomatic discourse?

Those questions have become enormously more complicated with the advent of the Trump Administration. Diplomats thrive on objectivity, accuracy, and reliability. They seek to strengthen the country’s position internationally, or at least protect its vital interests and slow its relative decline. What is the fate of the Foreign Service in an age of Fake News, when America’s president thinks the country has to be made great again and tries to upend its alliances and the norms-based international order America constructed so assiduously after World War II?

I won’t pretend to have the answers. What I’m sure of is this: as presently constituted and in this Administration, the Department of State and the Foreign Service that staffs so much of it are not today well-equipped to meet these challenges. As Kopp and Naland suggest, the Foreign Service needs more training and less conformity, more risk-taking and less reliance on tradition, more innovation and less continuity. Instead, our diplomats are being ensconced in well-protected fortresses that prevent them from doing what many of them joined the Service to do: get out and talk to foreigners, understand other cultures and countries in depth and on their own terms, and use that knowledge to further US interests.

In Brasilia more than 35 years ago, I was the science counselor of the US embassy. Brazil has forsworn nuclear weapons and its barriers to computer imports have changed, though I suppose the Amazon is still a sensitive issue. I would have new tools available: access to the internet and much better and cheaper communications. But I would still want to do what I did more than three decades ago: visit laboratories, climb over and around nuclear facilities, attend a missile launch, speak at universities, take a small boat with Brazilian scientists to the meeting of the waters at Manaus.

Terrorism has made that kind of outreach perilous, and “Benghazi” has made the State Department more nervous and risk-averse than ever. The Trump Administration is cutting both staff and budget. The Pentagon, used to running risks and endowed with far greater and rapidly expanding resources with which to meet them, is taking over large swathes of diplomatic work, making State every more beholden to military priorities and perspectives. The diplomatic career is appealing less, others are encroaching on the profession, and the institution is enfeebled. The Foreign Service this book so ably describes is in trouble.

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This interview is too long

Ivan Angelovski of the Belgrade weekly NIN did this excessively long interview with me last week. I gather it was published yesterday or today: 


The world is in bad shape in 2018. The big issues confronting the United States have to do with North Korea and Iran but apart from the success against Daesh in Iraq and in Syria there isn’t a lot of good news for the United States. There’s a lot of concern I think in Washington and beyond that the president is weakening the United States internationally rather than strengthening it.

North Korea and Iran are the key hotspots in the near term. In the longer term we face a big adjustment to Chinese power, especially in the Pacific but also elsewhere in the world. We obviously face some challenge from Russia as well, but I think it’s a very different challenge. Putin is looking large today but when his bubble bursts he will not look all that large. In the meanwhile we face real challenges, especially from their expertise on the Internet.

There are lots of other challenges. Challenges in Africa and the Middle East especially in Yemen and Libya. The world is not in good shape.


Deterrence has worked and it probably will continue to work. It’s very clear why Kim Jong-Un wants nuclear weapons. It’s for regime preservation.That’s quite rational.Attacking the United States unprovoked with nuclear weapons would be an obvious and serious error because we would respond. But by the same token an American attack on North Korea would be a serious mistake because they can respond not only with nuclear weapons but also with conventional artillery against Seoul and kill hundreds of thousands if not millions of people. So what options do we have? The main one is to sit down and negotiate with the North Koreans.


The issue of Jerusalem is a self-imposed wound by the United States. There is no issue with Jerusalem that has to be solved tomorrow. There are many other issues that have to be solved between the Israelis and the Palestinians first. The president chose to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem in order to satisfy domestic constituencies, apparently without any serious thought being given to the international repercussions. Why would he do that? Because the Christian evangelicals and a limited number of his big donors wanted it. I also think that he had come to understand that his peace initiative was going no place so he wasn’t ruining anything by doing this, at least in his mind. That said it would have been very easy to do this in a way that was palatable to the Palestinians and to the Arabs had he added a sentence to the decision that said “I look forward to the day when there will also be a capital of Palestine in Jerusalem”. Arabs and Palestinians would have applauded, everybody in the world would have been happy with the addition of one senstence. It’s very telling that he didn’t end that sentence. He’s completely hard over on the Israeli side. Not just on the Israeli side but on the Netanyahu side of this dispute. Netanyahu doesn’t want a Palestinian state and certainly not now. Trump committed an own-goal. It’s just fantastic that a hundred and twenty-eight countries voted against us in the General Assembly. What more evidence do you need that this guy is weakening the United States?


It’s not surprising. This is a guy who puts America first, who’s criticized our closest allies, at this point I don’t think he can even visit Germany or maybe even London. I think the demonstrations in London against him would be truly massive.They know that and that’s why they’re not scheduling that visit. But Germany feels the same way. He is intentionally alienating our closest allies. The negotiations with Mexico and Canada over the North American Free Trade Agreement are going badly, he’s made the South Koreans very nervous.The Japanese seem to get on ok with him because their inclination is to move in the direction of doing more on defense.Trump wants that so I think there there’s a meeting of the minds, the Saudis obviously like him, the Emiratis like him, but everybody else in the Middle East is pretty grumpy about him, including even Sisi, who Trump declared his best friend.

One problem that isn’t so visible abroad is if that the Americans are having trouble speaking with one voice. You hear very different things out of the National Security Council, out of

the president, the State Department and the Defense Department.That alone causes nervousness around the world and makes people hedge against the possibility that what the president said yesterday isn’t going to be true tomorrow.That’s a big problem.


You don’t usually have six or seven voices coming out of Washington. There’s a big deterioration in mental and verbal discipline. ThePresident himself is not mentally or verbally disciplined, he doesn’t say the same thing from one day to another, so why should anybody else be disciplined if he isn’t?


His lack of education and bullheadedness are important factors. He simply did not get a good education. I don’t care if he went to Wharton.He doesn’t show much more than a sixth-grade education. He doesn’t read much, he doesn’t learn easily, he learns from things that affect him personally but not from things people tell him about something else. He has made a career of lying – he lies about his real estate projects, he lies about how much money he has, he’s unreliable in paying his contractors. He has gotten away with it. So why would you expect him to be different at over 70? He enjoyed success for 50 years by lying. Read more

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The wrong chair

Serbia, State Department official Hoyt Yee warned in October, could not “sit on two chairs.” He meant it has to choose between the European Union and Russia, between the West and the East. This is admittedly asking a lot of a country that enjoyed a leading role in the heyday of the Non-Aligned Movement and continues to regard itself as at least militarily “unaligned,” whatever that means in the post-Cold War world.

Serbian President Vucic was in Moscow earlier this week to meet with President Putin. He said things there that at least sound to Washington ears as if he is choosing the East. He

repeated a vow that Serbia will not join EU nations in imposing sanctions against Russia, though he ‘can’t guarantee what will happen after I leave this post.’

He says he asked Russia to join the Belgrade/Pristina talks if Kosovo manages to convince the US to join them:

Vucic has also claimed claimed that Serbia is the only country in Europe that has never voted against Russia in any international forum.
Let’s be clear: Serbia is free to choose its alignment or non-alignment, just like any other sovereign state. But it really cannot sit on two stools. Aligning its foreign policy with the EU is part of the process of qualifying for accession. While Brussels may choose to be wishy-washy about it in the near term, the votes for accession simply won’t be there when the time comes unless Serbia meets the membership criteria.
That will include not only alignment with EU sanctions and other decisions vis-a-vis Russia but also acceptance of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Kosovo and normalization of relations between the two states. Twenty-three out of 28 EU members have recognized Kosovo. I doubt any of the 23 will be willing to accept Serbia as an EU member unless is normalizes relations with its erstwhile province. But I am certain the Dutch and Germans will hold out no matter what.
What does normalization entail? There are two crucial steps:
  1. Entry of Kosovo into the UN General Assembly;
  2. Exchange of diplomats at the ambassadorial level.

Note that neither of these steps involves “recognition of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence,” which Serb politicians have pledged not to do. Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence was an expression of political will that breached no international law, as the International Court of Justice has advised, in response to a Serbian request. Nor is bilateral recognition necessary, as entry into the UN makes that superfluous. Exchange of diplomatic representatives at the ambassadorial level is in any case the moral equivalent. East and West Germany called them “permanent representatives.”

When should Serbia normalize relations with Kosovo? Belgrade’s approach has been to postpone until just before EU accession. That is a serious error. At the final stages of negotiation, all the leverage is on the EU side. Just ask Slovenia and Croatia, which had to yield on important issues in the final stages of their accession negotiations. The same will happen with Serbia: if it gets to that final stage without normalizing relations with Kosovo, it won’t get anything in return for it.

This means Serbia would be wiser to sit on the EU chair sooner rather than later, negotiating what it can in return for Kosovo’s UN membership and exchange of something like permanent representatives. What can it get? I don’t know, but no one will ever know unless it tries. And having Moscow at the Pristina/Belgrade talks won’t help. After all, Russia has recognized the independence of breakaway provinces of Georgia and Moldova, while annexing Crimea and supporting secessionists in Ukraine’s southeast. Is it wise for Serbia to be relying on Russia to assert Belgrade’s sovereignty over Kosovo?


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What’s wrong with the Atlantic Council report

I naturally agree with large parts of the Atlantic Council report on “Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region,” even if I think the title overblown. It’s more like a course correction they have recommended, but that presumably wouldn’t have satisfied the donors. I in particular agree that the US needs to return to a more activist approach on some issues in the Balkans, because EU leadership in a period of big strains on its unity and coherence has failed to resolve some key issues.

That said, I disagree with some of the specific recommendations and will try to clarify why. I also wonder why it highlights corruption and offers no recommendations to deal with it, apart from avoiding excessive reliance on “Big Men.”

A permanent US military presence

I would be prepared to consider a permanent US military presence in Southeastern Europe, but I can’t agree that “Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo is ideal for the purpose.” It is not. It lacks the 10,000-foot runway that a serious US base would require, and building one would be difficult given the topography. There is also no need for one, since an F-16 doesn’t know much difference between Aviano (in northern Italy) and Bondsteel.

More important: a US base anywhere should serve US purposes, which are heavily focused on the Middle East and North Africa. We’ve got bases much closer to those theaters than Bondsteel. The Pentagon has long wanted to close Bondsteel, because it doesn’t serve US purposes well.

Nor do I think we can assume that we will always be welcome in Kosovo. Young Kosovar Albanians don’t understand why the country doesn’t have an army. NATO is starting to be seen as a barrier to getting one, and Bondsteel in particular plays looms large in that regard: some internationals don’t think Kosovo needs an army because it has a NATO presence. That won’t fly forever with the country’s citizens. Better to fix the problem than wait for them to protest.

Pursue a “historic rapprochement” with Serbia

This has long been a Belgrade talking point: Washington does not sufficiently embrace us. I’ve been hearing it every since Slobodan Milosevic was defeated at the polls in 2000. The truth is that the US normalized relations with Serbia quickly after that, removing sanctions and instituting cooperation on a wide array of issues. I’ve never seen us do it faster.

From the American perspective, today’s barriers to a closer relationship are on the Serbian side. The Atlantic Council mentions the difficulty that Serbia’s relations with Russia pose. But that is not the only barrier. There are others: Belgrade’s restraints on the press, its failure to establish a truly independent judiciary, its increasing inclination to normalize those responsible for war crimes (and failure to prosecute people responsible for killing Albanian Americans), and its slow approach to normalizing relations with Kosovo. There has been serious backsliding on several of these issues in recent years, which makes it difficult for a US president or vice president to embrace Serbia more warmly.

Regain the United States’ reputation as an honest broker

I don’t think we’ve lost it, though I also think we are more power broker than honest broker. We just haven’t used whatever it is lately. Nothing in the report convinces me otherwise.

Bet on the region’s entrepreneurs and youth

Sure, bet on them but for what? This is the eternal recommendation of all think-tank reports when confronted with lingering problems in post-war countries. Economic development will fix it. But it won’t so long as the politics don’t allow it to happen. In all of the Balkan countries, there are too many resources under the control of political parties for normal free market capitalism to operate effectively. That needs to change, through internationally supervised privatization and liquidation. Only politicians can make that happen.

As for youth, there are a lot of indications that in several Balkan countries the past 20 years has seen ethnic tension passed on to the next generation, sometimes in more virulent forms than the last. I wouldn’t want to bet on some of the region’s youth, because they want to take the region backwards not forward.

Bottom line

The report is a competent analysis of many current issues in the Balkans, but it offers nothing like a new US strategy for the region. Nor is one needed. What we need to do is complete the strategy we adopted around 2000: get all the countries of the region that want to enter NATO or the EU qualified as quickly as possible and admit them to membership whenever the political winds blow in the right direction.

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Peace picks November 27 – December 1

  1. Private Sector Engagement in Afghanistan | Monday, November 27 | 1:00 – 3:00 pm | Center for Strategic and International Studies | Register Here | Private sector development in Afghanistan is a crucial topic for U.S engagement in the region. Between 2002 and 2010, about 57 billion US dollars of official development assistance (ODA) was disbursed to Afghanistan for purposes of reconstruction and development. More recently, the Trump administration committed to extending the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan into the foreseeable future. Military resources alone cannot achieve U.S. foreign policy goals in Afghanistan: it is important to look at the role that the private sector plays in consolidating Afghanistan’s future prosperity and growth. Afghanistan is doing well in fiscal policy, inflation, access to credit, and some aspects of human capital investment (i.e., health expenditures and primary education expenditures). However, to promote private sector growth, Afghanistan needs to tackle political rights, fight corruption, uphold the rule of law, build effective governance, and reform business regulations, to name a few. Fostering a solid private sector in Afghanistan is important for long-term sustainable growth and improving the quality of life for its citizens. Leveraging the private sector to build a robust economic foundation in Afghanistan is a necessary and timely discussion. Panelists will include Gregory Huger of USAID, Mozhgan Wafiq of the Afghanistan Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Jeffrey Grieco of the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce, and Hussein Ali Mahrammi of Federation of Afghanistan’s Craftsmen and Traders. They will be joined by CSIS’s Romina Bandura, Earl Anthony Wayne, and Daniel F. Runde.
  2. What’s Next for Lebanon? | Wednesday, November 29 | 1:00 – 2:30 pm | Arab Center Washington DC (held at the National Press Club) | Register Here | Join us to discuss the implications of the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the increased belligerent rhetoric against Iran and Hezbollah by Saudi Arabia. This event will feature Joseph Bahout of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Joe Macaron of the Arab Center Washington DC, and Paul Salem of the Middle East Institute.
  3. Raqqa After the Islamic State: Governance Challenges in Post-ISIS Syria | Wednesday, November 29 | 10:00 – 11:30 am | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | With the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s hold on Syrian territory vastly diminished, the campaign to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) enters a new phase. The fall of Raqqa—the capital of ISIS’ self-proclaimed caliphate—marked a powerful strategic and symbolic loss for the extremist group. Yet the success of the counter-ISIS campaign will ultimately be determined not by battlefield wins, but instead by what follows. Please join the U.S. Institute of Peace to discuss the complex governance challenges in Raqqa and how the United States and the international community can constructively address them. In a recent USIP Special Report, Mona Yacoubian, senior advisor for Syria, the Middle East and North Africa at the Institute, examines the critical governance challenges in Raqqa after the Islamic State. Her report highlights the ethnic, tribal, and strategic complexities that will affect this new phase. To sustain security in the territories freed from ISIS, a broad approach to stabilization will be vital. That approach will have to ensure effective and inclusive governance that is responsive to the needs of the local population. This event’s speakers include Hassan Hassan of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, Nicholas A. Heras of the Center for a New American Security, Mona Yacoubian of the U.S. Institute of Peace, and moderator Sarhang Hamasaeed of the U.S. Institute of Peace.
  4. A Coming Storm? Shaping a Balkan Future in an Era of Uncertainty | Wednesday, November 29 | 9:00 am – 6:15 | Atlantic Council | Register Here | Although the Western Balkan region has made significant progress in its efforts to integrate into the wider transatlantic community, inspired and guided by its commitment to eventual membership in the European Union (EU), NATO, and other global institutions, that progress is now at risk. The conference will seek to generate new ideas and policy-relevant proposals to craft a way forward for the Balkan region, firmly embedded within the transatlantic community. This conference will engage the highest levels of transatlantic decision-makers, bringing together over 100 participants, ranging from regional leaders to decision-makers from both sides of the Atlantic and top experts in the field, to spotlight what is at stake and spur support for a reenergized Balkans policy in the United States in partnership with the European Union. The all-day event will include five panels and a keynote address.
  5. How to Help Vulnerable States Prevent Their Own Crises | Thursday, November 30 | 2:00 – 3:30 pm | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | The European Union recently has added a new priority to its foreign and defense policies: Help countries vulnerable to crisis build their resilience against catastrophic events, notably violent conflict, which has uprooted 65 million people worldwide. The EU’s shift is part of a growing global focus on the importance of preventing civil war and its devastation. The United Nations, World Bank and U.S. government are among the organizations taking up this agenda. On November 30, USIP gathers U.S., European and World Bank officials to discuss how governments and international organizations can better coordinate the implementation of this broad new approach to halting violent conflicts. The European Union issued its new framework for policy this year as the World Bank and United Nations are completing a broad study on ways to catalyze the international community to better prevent violent conflicts. Concurrently, the State Department and other U.S. agencies are reviewing the United States’ efforts to help states struggling for stability in the face of warfare. As governments and international organizations improve these strategies, where are the obstacles to better coordination? Christian Leffler of the European Union will open this discussion by laying out the new EU policy framework. Other speakers will include Nancy Lindborg of the US Institute of Peace, Franck Bosquet of the World Bank, Raphael Carland of the State Department, and moderator Joe Hewitt of the US Institute of Peace. 
  6. Public Opinion in a Conflicted Middle East | Thursday, November 30 | 12:00 – 1:30 | Middle East Institute | Register Here | The Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Arab American Institute (AAI) are pleased to host James Zogby (AAI and Zogby Research Services) for the presentation of fresh polling results from across Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iran, and Turkey. The report examines opinions from 7,800 respondents about the U.S. and other regional states’ roles in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. It also looks at Trump Administration policy, political Islam, prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Iran nuclear deal, and the region’s refugee crisis. Joining Dr. Zogby to discuss the poll findings will be Yousef Munayyer (MEI & U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights), Barbara Slavin (Atlantic Council; Al-Monitor), and Gönül Tol (MEI). MEI senior vice president Paul Salem will moderate the event. The poll and resulting report were commissioned by the Sir Bani Yas Forum, convened annually in the United Arab Emirates on the initiative of H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the U.A.E. Foreign Minister. The findings are being made available for use by the public.
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The best available, unsatisfying outcome

Ratko Mladic was convicted today in The Hague. The sentence is life imprisonment for genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws and customs of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s. He will presumably appeal.

Re-reading the Mladic indictment is a terrifying reminder. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) originally accused him in 1995, but the trial that ended yesterday was based on an indictment in 2011 of participating in a joint criminal enterprise responsible for the removal of Bosnian Croats and Muslims, the years-long siege of Sarajevo, the mass murder of Bosnian Muslims after his military seizure of Srbrenica, and the taking of UN personnel as hostages. It has taken 22 years for this first conviction.

International justice today is agonizingly slow, meticulously detailed, procedurally complex, and ultimately decisive. I attended an afternoon of Mladic’s trial a few years ago. It was dull. The prosecutor would read volumes of detailed eye-witness testimony of atrocities to a Mladic underling who would deny that anything like that happened. Mladic sat silent. His defense lawyer would occasionally intervene, but to little avail. I could well imagine that this orderly process, involving years of hearings in which to air his denials, would not satisfy his victims.

In fact, the Tribunal is not looked on favorably in the region. Each ethnic group resents the indictments of its own military heroes. No group thinks its tormentors have been adequately punished. The procedural niceties are largely lost in a flood of self-justifying nationalistic fervor. There has been little reflection, at least in popular culture, on the villainy of one’s own, only of the others. Leading politicians exploit the popular sentiment. Few acknowledge their own group’s culpability or laud accountability.

I would nevertheless judge the Tribunal a success, less for its jurisprudence and more for its political impact. Even when it did not capture war criminals right away, indictments sooner or later forced wartime leaders out of the political arena. Had that not been the case, politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia would have been far more fraught. Mladic and his political counterpart Radovan Karadzic were forced into hiding. Slobodan Milosevic was defeated at the polls and extradited. Had they remained politically active, or even just present in their respective political environments, Sarajevo and Belgrade would have been far more fraught.

That is less true for the Croatian, Bosniak, and Kosovar indictees, not least because their top political leaderships were never indicted. Croatian President Tudjman and Bosnian President (Alija) Izetbegovic are dead. Kosovo Prime Minister Haradinaj was indicted but acquitted. He is again prime minister now. He, Kosovo President Thaci, or other KLA fighters could still be indicted, by a Kosovo “special court” staffed with internationals convened in The Hague to deal with post-war crimes.

Some will say the failure to hold more Croat, Bosniak and Kosovo political leaderships accountable, and the acquittal of some of their military leaders, proves that ICTY is biased against Serbs, or implemented only victor’s justice. I find some of the acquittals difficult to understand, but it is important to remember that a court like ICTY that follows best practices in contemporary criminal procedure is more likely to acquit the guilty than convict the innocent, which is as it should be.

There is however no question of innocence in Mladic’s case. The evidence presented at trial was overwhelming and compelling. Someone else unjustly getting off is no reason to doubt Mladic’s guilt. He will now have ample opportunity to appeal, but odds are he’ll spend the rest of his life incarcerated in a fairly comfortable place, telling himself he was right to protect Serbs by murdering and expelling Muslims and Croats, firing at civilians in Sarajevo, and taking UN peacekeepers hostage. It’s an unsatisfying outcome, but the best available.

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