Moderator: Good afternoon, and welcome to State Department Live, the State Department’s new web chat platform. I’m your host, Holly Jensen. Today we are fortunate enough to have Assistant Secretary Robert Blake, the Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs and we’re going to be talking about the U.S. and India’s Strategic Dialogue.
Please feel free to start asking your questions and typing them into the lower left-hand side of your screen at any time and we’ll get to as many of your questions as we can in the 30 minutes we have.
You can follow South and Central Asia on Twitter at @state_SCA or if you like you can continue this conversation over Twitter using the hash tag AskSCA.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Assistant Secretary Blake. Welcome.
Assistant Secretary Blake: Thanks, Holly. Good afternoon everyone. I understand we have Indian-Americans from all over the country. A very warm welcome; and I thank you all for joining us.
I wanted to preview Secretary Clinton’s visit to India the week after next where she will co-chair the second U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton are both deeply committed to expanding the U.S.-India partnership to benefit the people of our two countries and help shape the 21st Century in a way that contributes to global security and prosperity.
The Strategic Dialogue offers an opportunity to review the many accomplishments we have made since last June’s meeting in Washington and the President’s trip last November.
It’s also a chance to guide and encourage our ongoing collaboration and cooperation and look ahead to new joint initiatives that we can implement.
We’ve done a lot since the President’s highly successful trip last November. As part of our commitment to treat India as a non-proliferation partner, for example, we de-listed the Defense Research and Development Organization and the Indian Space Research Organization from the Commerce Department’s Entities List.
We have conducted regional consultations on Asia and I held the first Central Asia dialogue with my counterparts in June. We continue to frequently discuss our joint objectives in Afghanistan.
On the economic side our trade has doubled twice over the last ten years and continues to drive our partnership. In 2010 two-way trade rose 30 percent from the year before. We also finalized the C-17 deal which gives India the second-largest C-17 fleet in the world after the United States and positions India to take a leading role on crisis response and humanitarian missions.
Our Department of Energy announced $25 million in funding for the U.S.-India Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center. We hope to mobilize $100 million of private and public sector funds to promote clean energy.
These activities, and there are many more, demonstrate the breadth and the depth of our relations. As a result, the Strategic Dialogue will have a broad array of interagency participation including representatives from the Departments of Energy, Homeland Security, Defense, and other agencies.
As I’ve said many times, this is a long-term project. Neither the United States nor India can afford to take this partnership for granted. The Strategic Dialogue aims to construct the concrete steps that sustain the spirit of what the President and Prime Minister have started.
Let me also take a few moments to acknowledge the important role of the Diaspora. While government cooperation is essential, it’s the wide scope of people-to-people connections between our two countries that will continue to define and indeed animate the U.S.-India partnership.
The Department of State recognizes it is through linkages among entrepreneurs, scientists, professors, business leaders, and others that the United States and India can work together to help find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.
Secretary Clinton has been clear that connecting with all citizens--not just government officials--is essential to cultivating long-term partnerships. That includes reaching out to people like all of you, many of whom maintain close ties with India, who have built the foundation upon which our government-to-government relationship exists.
That’s why the State Department is looking to engage with the Indian-American community in creative ways like this to foster stronger connections between and among the public and private sectors.
So thank you for all that you have done and continue to do, and we look forward to a continuing dialogue and even stronger partnership with all of you in the years ahead.
Now I’d be glad to take your comments and questions.
Moderator: Great. Our first question comes from Kabir Segal from JP Morgan. He would like to know;
How is the U.S. government helping to organize and involve the Indian Diaspora to help with Indian economic development?
Assistant Secretary Blake: Kabir, that’s a really terrific question and it’s something that I’ve really given a lot of thought to.
One of the first things that I did when I arrived two years ago as Assistant Secretary was to hire a young Indian-American who has worked on Wall Street called Mitul Desai to help me work with the Indian Diaspora and the private sector to do more in terms of public/private partnerships. We’ve been doing a lot of work to figure out how we can not only capitalize on a lot of the existing interactions that are taking place, encourage more public/private partnerships, but also how we can develop new mechanisms so that there are tax deductible mechanisms for all of you to either support some of the work that the United States government is doing or to help support existing NGOs or others in India who are doing terrific work.
A very important part of that would be to have some organization do the due diligence on that so we and you can be sure that your money is going to be well spent. So I hope we’re going to have something important to announce in the next several months about this because this will be I think a real game changer and can really help us to work more closely with the Diaspora.
Moderator: Our next question comes from Vinod Dham from Indo-U.S. Venture Partners.
How can the U.S. help India expedite the building of its basic infrastructure, roads, highways, dams, electricity, clean drinking water, and defense? This is the biggest need and exposure to geopolitical balance in the region as China has ramped up in all of these areas at a brisk pace.
Assistant Secretary Blake: Vinod, thank you very much for that question. I’m sure you’re familiar with some of the recent studies that have been done that show that 80 percent of the India of 2030 has yet to be built, so there’s going to be a huge opportunity for American companies over the next 30 years to work to help build the infrastructure of India. So we are working very closely with the U.S.-India Business Council, of course with the Department of Commerce and others, to first help people here, businesses here understand what those opportunities are, and then to lead trade and investment missions to India to again explore those opportunities and hopefully provide real chances for American companies to get more involved. So we look to be your very strong partners in that.
Moderator: A quick reminder that if you do have questions, please type those in the left-hand side of your screen, down on the lower portion of your computer screen. Also, please keep your questions to a one question at a time maximum so that way we can get through as many of these as we can in the short time that we have.
Assistant Secretary Blake: That sounds like a gentle reminder to me to keep my answers short. [Laughter].
Our next question comes from Ramesh Shah from Stanley Smith Barney.
In May 2010 the government of India imposed a surrender certificate rule on all naturalized U.S. citizens of Indian origin. The rule requires a surrender of invalid Indian passports and a fee for cancellation. We would like your thoughts on the validity of the surrender certificate rule and assistance in investigating the rule’s origin and channeling of funds.
Assistant Secretary Blake: To be honest, that’s the first I’ve heard of that. Let me take that for action, and if you don’t mind sending me an email, you can go onto our web site and you’ll see that there’s an SCA web site and a way that you can send us an email. Send us some more information about that, and we’ll be glad to get you an answer on that. Thank you.
Moderator: Our next question comes from Loveen Bains, International and Foreign Language Education, U.S. Department of Education.
What can we in the federal government do to help foster community college/polytechnic relationships in India?
Assistant Secretary Blake: That’s a terrific question and something that we’ve actually been spending quite a lot of time on. The other person that I hired when I came into office in SCA was a person specifically to work on education because I felt that expanding educational ties between India and the United States and between the United States and some of the other countries of the South and Central Asian region was a huge and new opportunity. I’m so pleased that I have a wonderful professional by the name of Molly Teas who has extensive experience both in the educational sector and in government working for groups like the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
So she’s been very active specifically on this question of expanding activities between our community colleges, and already a number of American community colleges have quite important links with their counterparts in India.
I’d say the next big event on our agenda will be the U.S.-India Higher Education Summit that we hope to host this fall in Washington, that Secretary Clinton and Higher Education Minister Sibal will be involved in and hosting. There we look to have that be an opportunity to explore the full range of possible cooperation not only between some of the big universities like Yale University and others, but also with community colleges, more vocational training, long distance or virtual training of various kinds that might be possible -- so there’s a whole range and menu of options out there that we would like to explore and expand and help India now, because so many young people in India are just entering into the age where they’ll be attending higher education so this is an enormous opportunity for both of our countries.
Moderator: The next question comes from Padu S. Padmanaban from Johns Hopkins University.
In your opinion, how important is the strategic implication of U.S.-India collaboration on clean energy? Specifically, how do you use the collaboration unfolding in the research, business and political fields?
Assistant Secretary Blake: Hi, Padu, thank you so much for joining us and thank you for your question.
I think that some of the cooperation that we’ve had on clean energy has been among the most significant progress that we have made in the Obama administration with India. There’s just been a huge step forward, in part because President Obama from the outset made greater cooperation on clean energy and climate change one of the real priorities for expanding our bilateral partnership.
Secretary Chu and his colleagues have done an incredibly important job of putting in place a number of new mechanisms. Probably the most important is a new Clean Energy Research and Development Center which has now just put out a request for proposals. We have $25 million that is out there. We’re also going to hopefully leverage that for more money in terms of private sector funds. So there’s enormous potential there and I think that some of the most interesting clean energy research and development in the world is going on both in India and in the United States so the opportunities for synergy between our businesses, between our scientists, and between our educators is enormous in this area, so I’m very very excited about this. I’m very excited that Deputy Secretary Dan Poneman, the Deputy Secretary of Energy, will be joining Secretary Clinton for the Strategic Dialogue so that we can have a further conversation about this on the 19th of July.
Moderator: Our next question comes from Atul Kumar, cofounder of the Bihar Entrepreneur Network.
What are the areas you saw opportunities in Bihar after your visit and meetings with the government?
Assistant Secretary Blake: Thank you so much for that question. I really enjoyed my recent visit to Bihar. I think I was probably the first Assistant Secretary or higher to ever visit Bihar. I went to Bihar because I really felt there are new opportunities there for the first time because of the leadership that the current Chief Minister has provided to ensure good governance and to really, for the first time, begin to emphasize development.
Obviously the Bihari economy is still focused primarily in agriculture, so most of the opportunities are going to be in the food processing area and so forth. As you know, Jharkand used to be part of Bihar and there were a lot of mining opportunities, but since that has now split off into a separate state there are not as many of those kinds of opportunities.
I think there also may be educational types of things, and again, the development of infrastructure. That’s going to be a huge priority for Bihar going forward.
I encourage you to take a look at this. I can tell you that the U.S.-India Business Council is planning to send a business delegation either later this year or early next, so I encourage you to be in touch with them as well because I’m sure they would welcome participation by American companies in their trade mission there.
Moderator: Our next question comes from Abhishek Raman, Interfaith Youth Core.
Are there still talks about sharing best practices and building closer ties around higher education issues between the U.S. and Indian governments?
Assistant Secretary Blake: There is. As I said earlier, we’re going to have this Higher Education Summit in Washington probably sometime in October, although we don’t yet have a specific date in mind. That will be chaired by Secretary Clinton and by Human Resources Development Minister Sibal and will explore the full range of higher education cooperation possibilities. So I’m very excited about that and, again, I hope we can have a Diaspora component to that as well. Many of you are very deeply involved in that. I encourage you to be in touch with Molly Teas of my staff, T-E-A-S, who is kind of the shepherd for this conference and is already deeply involved in planning for it.
Moderator: Our next question comes from Atul Kumar.
Do you plan to promote cross-culture tourism in partnership with India, especially the Buddhist circuit, and also places like Pupari and Putna which are holy places for [Jangs] and [Sikhs]. These communities have a significant presence in the United States.
Assistant Secretary Blake: You know, it’s really not the role of our government to promote tourism (overseas). Already U.S. tourism into India is booming and of course more and more Indian tourists are coming here to the United States. So the trends are very very good already and I frankly don’t think this is an area where government needs to get too involved.
But if you think there are areas where the United States could usefully help, where again the private sector is not already doing quite a good job, we’d welcome your ideas. We have a number of different dialogues underway that are chaired by the U.S. Department of Commerce, by the U.S. Trade Representative, and we would welcome ideas that could be fed into those dialogues. But as a rule, we’re not so much involved in promoting tourism to other countries.
Moderator: As a government official, what do you see as the role for private sector in helping advance U.S.-India relations?
Assistant Secretary Blake: I would say the private sector has a defining role in almost everything that we do. We have a huge range of dialogues now between the United States and India reflecting the breadth and the scope of our bilateral engagement. In almost every single one of those dialogues we have a private sector component because it’s so important that whatever we do be informed and really directed by the private sector so that we can make sure we are meeting your needs and that you can then take forward a lot of what we’re trying to get accomplished.
Again, I’d say that the private sector will have a defining role, and we look to work as closely as possible not just at the government-to-government level but in opening up these opportunities for not only businesses, but also for businesses to work with educational establishments, with scientists, and others. It’s that synergy that’s really going to drive innovation. That’s what our economies are all about. The United States economy and the Indian economy are founded on innovation. Again, the private sector’s going to be the one that really drives that. So I really welcome your interest in that and look forward to working with all of you on that.
Moderator: The next question comes from Sam Kannappanfrom Houston, Texas.
Last week France said it will work with India in a civil nuclear supplier treaty without restriction. Will the U.S. take a similar stand?
Assistant Secretary Blake: Hi Sam, nice to hear from you again. Thanks for joining us.
Yes, the United States is very excited about the opportunities for civil nuclear cooperation with India. We remain completely committed to the civil nuclear deal. You know that when President Obama was in India last November we made a series of commitments to carry the civil nuclear cooperation forward, the most important of which will be for India to ratify the Convention on Supplementary Compensation this year which is a key international liability law. I think India is working on its own, implementing regulations for that. So there’s quite a lot of progress that’s taking place.
I know India itself remains committed very much to this as well. We expect this will be a topic of discussion at the Strategic Dialogue and that we’ll have more to say about that, but from our perspective, this is an area where there’s gigantic opportunities for American companies to help India to meet its electricity needs and its energy needs, and we are very much looking forward to supporting our companies to achieve those ends.
Moderator: The next question is Nisha Patel from the Aspen Institute.
There is a growing body of evidence that public and private philanthropic investments in women and girls in India and other parts of South Asia are paying dividends in terms of economic development, changing families, changing communities, and changing countries. What lessons can the U.S. learn from these investments to make the case for similar investments domestically, i.e. in the U.S. where one in four children, according to a recent OECD analysis, is being raised by a single parent, primarily single mothers and women.
Assistant Secretary Blake: Thank you, Nisha. I must say I’m not terribly empowered to talk about things inside the United States because I don’t really work on programs in the United States, but let me tell you that we have a very important dialogue that is chaired by the Secretary’s person who handles women’s affairs, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, who is a wonderful, dynamic woman. We have a Women’s Empowerment Dialogue that is chaired by Ambassador Verveer. As you know there have been a number of private efforts underway through Vital Voices and others to work much more closely between the United States and India on this issue.
Secretary Clinton will be traveling to Chennai on the second day of her visit and we expect to have an event with women’s leaders down there exactly to talk about the issues that you’ve described and how can we do more to work together to empower women in India and also to take the powerful example of what women are doing in India and extend that to other parts of the world. I think there are a number of best practices that are already underway in India that would be of enormous benefit to the rest of the world. That’s one of the things that our partnership is all about, sharing those best practices.
Moderator: We have another question from Abhishek Raman.
How is SCA working with the faith and secular communities in India to achieve its development goals?
Assistant Secretary Blake: I have to say we’re not doing that much, and we’d welcome your ideas about how we might do more. I think the President is interested as a rule in trying to get more involved in these kinds of activities, so if you have any suggestions we would really welcome that. There are always really important things we can do.
I’ll just give you one example that’s not really an Indian example. When I was Ambassador in Sri Lanka, of course I was there during the end of the very important civil war there, and all of the faith-based organizations, the Buddhist clergy, the Tamils, the Catholic church, others, the Hindus, all had very important clergy who were involved in peacemaking efforts. They were very happy to work together and it really helped quite a lot. So there may be similar ways to engage those kinds of leaders in India, and again, we would welcome your ideas on that.
Moderator: One more question from Abhishek.
How can U.S. NGOs who are working in India on grant receipts from other State Department agencies, e.g. DRL, connect and collaborate with SCA?
Assistant Secretary Blake: Sorry, how can who collaborate with?
Moderator: U.S. NGOs who are working in India on grants received from State Department agencies like DRL, connect and collaborate with SCA.
Assistant Secretary Blake: We have a huge range of different things going on so I can’t really comment on specific things. I guess the best thing to do would just be to have you come in and talk to us. A lot of what we do is on our web site, particularly through the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, through their web site. You can go on to the AID portions of that or to other parts of the web site and you can see what’s going on. There are always links to get more information. That’s probably the best place to start. But of course you’re always welcome to call us as well and our friends in the Human Rights Bureau in Washington who can give you more information.
Moderator: Our next question comes from Suni from Technibal Kolkata.
I’m a U.S. citizen of Indian origin living in Kolkata, India and run a social enterprise, Technibal and Livelihood Through Skills Development. Can we be useful in strengthening strategic relationships between the two countries? And how?
Assistant Secretary Blake: I think you can be useful. I would encourage you to be in touch, again, with our consulate there. I just had a wonderful visit to Kolkata and was so impressed with the new Chief Minister and what she is trying to accomplish, again, to improve governance and to really ensure a much more prominent role for the private sector in developing West Bengal.
I think there are going to be tremendous opportunities there. Skills development, as we discussed earlier, is going to be one of the top priorities of the Indian government over the next 20 or 30 years as all of these young Indians now prepare to enter the work force. There is a huge demographic dividend for India if all of these young people can receive the proper training.
So I think there are ways that you can get involved, and again, I would encourage you to touch base with our Consulate General in Kolkata so that they can tell you in more detail what are some of the things we already have underway that you might be able to work more closely with us on.
Moderator: The next question comes from Persis Kombata.
Dear Secretary Blake, I’d like to ask how you use a regional approach to the Afghanistan issue being forged. In the shadow of U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, what are your thoughts on the realistic prospect for India and Pakistan with or without the U.S. coming to some sort of agreement by which they can work together, or at least not against each other, so that Afghanistan can recover and develop?
Assistant Secretary Blake: Persis, that’s a very important question and I thank you very much for asking that question. It’s something that we are devoting increasing attention to now here in the SCA Bureau, but also with Ambassador Marc Grossman who’s the Secretary’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As you say, there is a very important transition underway now in Afghanistan. Not only on the military side but also on the economic side. So we are giving great thought to how to embed Afghanistan much more into both Central Asia but also into South Asia. There are a number of exciting efforts underway.
One is the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement. As you may know, President Karzai recently visited Pakistan and he and President Zardari agreed to implement that transit trade agreement, extend it to Central Asia.
There are also some quite important efforts underway between India and Pakistan to improve trade relations with them, and some of the efforts that they already have underway, if successful, could double trade within a year. So again, there are quite important opportunities. If there is sufficient confidence built between India and Pakistan you can eventually see a vision where trucks from Kazakhstan or from all of Central Asia or even beyond could come through Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, into India, the larger markets there, and even Bangladesh and farther away and create a huge new zone of opportunity not only for Afghanistan and Pakistan but for all the peoples of that region.
There are also enormous opportunities to help develop infrastructure not only in Afghanistan with the roads, the rails and electricity networks, but also with some of these very important regional projects that are underway such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Gas Pipeline.
So these are all things that we are working very hard on and think that they can have an enormous positive and beneficial effect not only for Afghanistan and the transition that’s taking place, but also for Pakistan which has its own quite severe economic and energy challenges and would benefit a great deal from these synergies that I talked about. Thank you for that.
Moderator: The next question comes from Ranjita Misra from CSHD.
What primary and secondary prevention programs and services to deal with the high levels of chronic diseases -- diabetes and heart disease -- among Indians? What are those?
Assistant Secretary Blake: As you say, the character of some of the health challenges are now changing in India as development proceeds. We have again, a quite important health dialogue underway. We have a number of institutions that we’ve set up bilaterally between our two countries. We of course have an enormous HIV/AIDS program of more than $30 million in place in India. So there are a number of different things going on.
Again, just to come back to an earlier theme, increasingly what we see is many Indian-American doctors going back and establishing practices, sometimes with American hospitals or American universities of some sort, sometimes without, and setting up practices on some of these new diseases that are now beginning to affect the Indian population like diabetes, like heart disease, the things that have affected Americans for many many years.
So again, I think there are enormous opportunities there that we can all capitalize on.
Moderator: The next question from Kabir Segal from JP Morgan.
Are there high level talks about oil policy between the U.S. and India exploration, discovery and production? India is a net oil importer and I’m curious, how are they identifying energy opportunities around the world? And do you see relaxation in subsidies for fuel in India?
Assistant Secretary Blake: We do have a very important energy dialogue as I described earlier, and Deputy Secretary Dan Poneman will be with Secretary Clinton for this Strategic Dialogue. They discuss the full range of energy opportunities including, as I said, really, our focus mostly is on clean energy now, but of course we always want to support our companies who are interested in doing more exploration and production in India, so we’re always looking to do more in that area.
Another interesting new area of cooperation for us is in the shale gas area, where India is believed to have potentially quite important new reserves of shale gas. As you know, there’s been tremendous development of that in the United States. We have to be mindful of some of the environmental risks associated with that and that’s something we’re giving careful study to. But we also think it’s in our interest to help India to develop and explore for shale gas reserves. So the United States Geological Survey has been involved in that and will continue in that area as well.
I just want to underline again the wide scope of activities that are underway in the energy sector.
Moderator: The next question comes from Akarsh Kolaprath.
How can you help to offer easy visitor visas for Indians to the United States to help U.S. tourism and bring more money here?
Assistant Secretary Blake: We like to think that it’s pretty easy right now. In most cases in India you can go onto the web site of the American Embassy in New Delhi or one of our consulates and you can go on-line and get an appointment right away. Usually you can get an appointment within two weeks. Assuming all goes well you can usually get your visa within a day. So we’ve managed to significantly reduce the wait times and significantly improve our customer service and we’re very proud of that. I think the results are very clear.
The number of Indians now traveling to the United States has expanded dramatically and it’s something we really welcome. But we always welcome other suggestions. We want to be the best we can be in terms of customer service for our Indian friends.
Moderator: How would you characterize U.S. trade with India?
Assistant Secretary Blake: Booming. As I said earlier, it’s doubled twice over the last ten years. Just in the last year alone it’s gone up by 30 percent. I think that the outlook is equally promising. India, as I said earlier, is going to be the third largest economy in the world by the year 2030. The United States of course will continue to be the world’s largest economy during that period. So there are tremendous opportunities to expand trade and investment and that was one of the key themes of the President’s visit last November where he announced $15 billion in new trade deals with roughly $10 billion in U.S. export content. So there’s enormous promise, and this will be a continued, very high priority for both of our countries to do everything we can to expand two-way trade.
Moderator: A majority of India’s economy depends on agriculture. How are the U.S. and India working together in this area?
Assistant Secretary Blake: Thank you very much for that question. Again, that’s another very important and relatively new area of cooperation between our two countries.
I’d say that the new area is in trying to get the business sector more involved. One of the highest priorities now is to try to help commercialize Indian agriculture. We have already companies like Wal-Mart that are invested in the Punjab, and Wal-Mart has been doing some really quite fascinating work to help develop cold chains, to help develop the supply chains to supply its stores in the Punjab and in so doing has managed to dramatically reduce the farm-to-market losses that we had previously seen where up to 30 percent of the crop was lost during the transport part of this. So there is a lot of really important work underway and it really underlines some of the really terrific opportunities that exist if retail can be expanded.
If some of those lessons that have been learned in the Punjab could be applied all over India this could help dramatically reduce food prices, which is a concern not only for Indians but for people all over the world. So that’s just one small example of the really tremendous opportunities that we have to expand agricultural cooperation. And again, this is a very high priority, of course, for the Indian government as well because so many people still rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.
Moderator: That was actually the last question we have, so I’d like to turn it back over to you for any parting words you may have to your friends out there.
Assistant Secretary Blake: Again, I would just like to thank all of the Indian-Americans for all that you do every day, not only to serve as a bridge between our two societies, but also for the energy and ideas that you are able to bring to help to develop the partnership between the United States and India.
As many of you know, I’ve had the privilege of traveling around the country. Wherever I go I make it a point to meet with Indian-Americans and other Diasporas because I do attach such importance to expanding our cooperation with all of you, providing you with the knowledge and the opportunities to do more in some of your countries of origin. So that remains a very high priority for me, and I will continue to reach out.
I can just assure you that expanding the partnership between the United States and India is one of my boss’, Secretary Clinton’s, highest priorities; it’s one of my President’s highest priorities, and we will continue to benefit from all of the advice and wisdom that you can share with us about how best we can do that.
Again, thank you so much for joining us today and I hope I can see all of you soon.
Moderator: Great. Thank you for taking the time to join us today. And thank you for joining State Department Live. You can continue this conversation by using the hash tag AskSCA, that’s # AskSCA. And if you like, you can also follow SCA on Twitter, at @State_SCA or you can follow our in-language Twitter feed and that is @USAHinimein. Thanks for joining us today.
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