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FOREIGN POLICY POLICIES, ANALYSIS, AND RESOURCES

The Foreign Policy Domain tracks and reports on policies that deal with US treaty obligations, relations with other countries, engagement with international organizations, and trade policies. The domain tracks policies emanating from the White House, the Department of State, United States Agency for International Development, Office of the US Trade Representative, and Office of the US Representative to the United Nations.

Latest Foreign Policy Posts

 

Why Have Some Countries Been Better Able to Contain Covid-19 Than Others

Brief #85—Foreign Policy
By Hassan Elsebai
The Coronavirus death toll now exceeds one hundred thousand in the United States and is far ahead of every other country with respect to both deaths and confirmed cases. Followed by the UK with almost 40,000 deaths(June 1st). Italy and Brazil take third and fourth place, respectively. To understand how we got to this point it is imperative to examine the early actions taken by these countries’ leadership.

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China, Trump and The Epoch Times

Brief #81—Foreign Policy
By Erin Mayer and Brandon Mooney
On Wednesday, during a White House news conference, President Trump was questioned in regard to allegations that Coronavirus-19 originated from a laboratory in Wuhan, before escaping. The United States government has recently accused China of bearing the brunt of the responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic.

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Pompeo’s Weird Iran Scheme

Pompeo’s Weird Iran Scheme

With the coronavirus pandemic rightly taking center-stage over the past few months, the limelight has been shifted from traditionally discussed topics of foreign policy.

Policy Summary
With the coronavirus pandemic rightly taking center-stage over the past few months, the limelight has been shifted from traditionally discussed topics of foreign policy. However, this does not mean that the Department of State has shuttered its doors and ceased working. In fact, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came forward in late April with a rather convoluted plan to re-impose UN sanctions on Iran by way of a thorny legal argument that worked around President Trump’s declaration of withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the unilateral application of sanctions by the U.S. The strategy was conjured up by the Trump administration following the realization that the UN conventional arms embargo on Iran was going to expire in October, with Russia desiring to return to business-as-usual arms sales with the Iranian regime. The Trump administration has argued that if the arms embargo is not extended past its expiration date in the fall, that Iran will begin re-supplying weaponry to various national security threats and terrorist groups.

Let’s begin by first looking at what the Iran nuclear deal is meant to do and what state it is currently in. First, the accord is formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the JCPOA. The Obama-era agreement was struck between Iran, the U.S., EU, China, France, Russia, UK, and Germany; with the U.S. being the arguable lynchpin. The JCPOA forced Iran to send 97% of its generated nuclear fuel to Russia (as of 2016), along with limiting its production of nuclear material for the duration of 15 years and opening Iran’s nuclear facilities to inspection by the UN. In terms of the JCPOA’s current state, to all of the available evidence, Iran followed the agreement for a year following Trump’s declaration of the U.S.’s withdrawal from the accord but has been gradually violating set restrictions over the past year despite rebukes and threats by abiding European signatories. The Iranian regime has declared that it will go back to abiding by JCPOA limitations if Trump agrees to lift U.S. sanctions and re-enters the deal on the previous terms. Despite these sanctions, Iran has refused to negotiate with the Trump administration, which wishes to negotiate a far more stringent nuclear agreement.

We can now turn to Pompeo’s new strategy to drag Iran kicking and screaming to the negotiation table. The tactic relies upon the UN upholding Pompeo’s claim that despite Trump unilaterally imposing sanctions and declaring U.S. withdrawal from the deal, that the U.S. is still a so-called “participant state” to the deal due to it being an original signatory. If this premise is accepted, the U.S. would hypothetically be able to pressure the restoration of pre-2015 UN sanctions on oil sales and banking activities if the arms embargo is not prolonged. The Trump administration would then be able to lord its ability to re-impose far more stringent sanctions over Russia, ensuring that the U.S.-backed arms embargo would be extended.

It was reported by the New York Times that Pompeo is anticipating that upon the U.S. demanding that the Security Council prolong the arms embargo, Russia will immediately veto it. The U.S. would then assert that it is still a participant in the deal, as it is an original signatory and argue that Trump’s declaration of withdrawal did not revoke the U.S.’s rights as such. The Times did not provide the text of this legal argument, but I am curious as to how Pompeo can make such an assertion. Setting this aside however, if the claim is accepted by the UN, the U.S. would then point to Iran’s violation of the treaty’s limitations and demand a return to pre-2015 UN sanctions, as put forth in the JCPOA.

Analysis:

This is, at best and in my untrained legal opinion, a tenuous gray area to say the least. Although the U.S. is certainly an original signatory to the JCPOA under Obama, Trump has most definitely withdrawn from the deal and has been imposing US sanctions for the past two years. I may not be a lawyer nor am I well-versed in contracts, but it was my understanding that upon a party choosing to leave an agreement, it can no longer make demands as though it is a participant in said agreement. How does Trump leaving the JCPOA mean the U.S. has retained its powers as a signatory? I am not arguing that the arms embargo should not be extended or that its extension is not in the best interest of U.S. national security, but that the Trump administration is flagrantly attempting to have its cake and eat it too. A small criticism perhaps in the enormous fabric of the fight over the Iran deal, but certainly a bizarre one of note.

In addition, Pompeo’s plan was announced after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched a military satellite, which he asserted to be proof of Iran’s space program not being peaceful in nature. What this has to do with the UN arms embargoes and the nuclear deal I have no idea. Perhaps it was meant as evidence of Iranian aggression that would support the use of Pompeo’s legalese tactic? Who knows? Either way it’s an odd spark for an equally odd case.

Netanyahu ‘Confident’ Trump will give green-light for Annexation

Netanyahu ‘Confident’ Trump will give green-light for Annexation

Speaking to an Evangelical pro-Israel group, Netanyahu assured the audience that Israel’s annexation of the West Bank will likely be supported by the Trump administration. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo has stated that the decision to annex is up to Israel and the US will relay its thoughts privately.

The Palestinians have expressed extreme disapproval over any measures to further diminish the geography of a long-promised Palestinian state. However, with annexation, any hopes for a two-state solution are effectively thrown out the window rendering it geographically unfeasible. The extension of Israeli sovereignty will slice through the West Bank engulfing and fragmenting Palestinian territory, reminiscent of the South African Bantustans.

The emergence of a turbulent political climate in Israel after a series of three inconclusive elections led to a deal to form a unity government between the right-wing Likud, and the center Blue and White parties. One of the stipulations in that deal is for either party to possess veto power over any legislation proposed by the other with one exception: Netanyahu’s plans for annexation will remain unchallenged as long as it receives support from Washington.

The US holds the authority to stop this plan in its tracks. However, the Palestinians are not holding their breaths for an American intervention, a notion that was underscored by Trump’s unveiling of a so-called ‘Middle Past peace plan’ earlier this year.  Netanyahu stated “Three months ago, the Trump peace plan recognized Israel’s rights in all of Judea and Samaria,” referring to the West Bank by its biblical name. “A couple of months from now, I’m confident that that pledge will be honored,” he added. The Trump administration yet again proved to the Palestinians—and to the rest of the world—that the US is no longer an honest broker for peace.

Israel’s occupied territories in the West Bank remain illegal under numerous international laws and have been subjected to UN resolutions urging the state’s withdrawal.

The plan to annex received overwhelming condemnation from the international community. Joseph Borrell, foreign policy chief for the European Union said that a potential annexation “would constitute a serious violation of international law.” The Middle East peace envoy for the United Nations Nikolay Mladenov dubbed the move as crippling the prospects of a future two-state solution and will “close the door to a renewal of negotiations and threaten efforts to advance regional peace.” Nonetheless, Trump’s salient relationship with Netanyahu guarantees a green light for even categorical violations of international law.

Analysis:

To be candid, the Trump presidency is a political windfall for the nationalist Israeli Prime Minister. Netanyahu sees the Trump administration as a window of opportunity to push controversial policies with an American stick, an opportunity that is not fully guaranteed come November. In the midst of Israeli elections, Netanyahu is hoping that voters keep an Israeli expansion in their minds while heading to the polls. To compound his motivations further, Netanyahu is facing criminal charges of corruption, fraud, and breach of trust and is betting on the fact that staying in office and maintaining a fruitful relationship with the US President will mitigate his legal fate.

Donald Trump has election concerns of his own. With an already unshakeable Evangelical voter base, a dogmatic approval of Israeli wishes will further buttress his popularity among the Conservative, pro-Israel voters.

It is in the interest of all Americans to make sure the President does not sanction the illegal activity of any country. The US’s historic position as an honest broker for peace, and for a two-state solution has been completely gutted under the administration of Donald Trump. The US should use its influential position to pressure the Israeli government to comply with international laws rather than to allow itself to be implicated as supporters of an illegal occupation.

Resistance Resources

  • Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Is an American activist organization focused on peace through the self-determination and security of both the Palestinians and the Israelis. JVP gathers Jewish-American support in an attempt to spread awareness of the illegal occupation with the goal of having Israel abide by international law.
  • Americans For Peace Now  Has since 1978 been apposed to Israeli expansion and has been keeping track and publishing construction and settlements in the West Bank. been working tirelessly to persuade American leaders and the public to adopt policies that work towards a two-state solution and consistent with American interests.
  • Foundation for Middle East Peace is a center for peace based in Washington D.C. that has been keeping track of Israeli settlements in the west bank and also publishes legislation relating to Israel in the US congress. FMEP urges for complete human rights for the Palestinians.

 

Learn More:

China, Trump and The Epoch Times

China, Trump and The Epoch Times

Policy Summary

On Wednesday, during a White House news conference, President Trump was questioned in regard to allegations that Coronavirus-19 originated from a laboratory in Wuhan, before escaping. The United States government has recently accused China of bearing the brunt of the responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic. When asked if he had discussed the matter with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump responded, “I don’t want to discuss what I talked to him about the laboratory, I just don’t want to discuss, it’s inappropriate right now.” Following Wednesday’s news conference, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, told Fox News Channel, “we know this virus originated in Wuhan, China.” The Secretary of State went on to say that the Institute of Virology was within mere miles from the market, where the virus first appeared. Pompeo demanded that Beijing “open up” and “come clean” on the pandemic’s origins.

President Donald Trump has been quoted as calling the virus, “China-virus”.  March 16th, was when President Trump and his administration first used the term while also introducing allegations that Beijing knowingly put the United States in danger by not disclosing information about the virus as early as possible. Soon after, Trump defended the racial term by saying, “it comes from China,” and said the label is “not racist.” The term offended many, with Chinese-Americans feeling specifically targeted. Following a sharp spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans across the nation, President Trump changed his tone on March 23rd when he tweeted, ““It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world. They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form” However, the hate crimes against the minority group have continued.

Soon, The Epoch Times was sharing news articles titled, “Democrats Would Rather Blame Trump Than China for the Pandemic” and “China Using Facebook Ads to Attack America, Spread Virus Disinformation.” The Epoch Times is run by members of the Falun Gong—also known as Falun Data. The Falun Gong are a group guided by a spiritual meditation system and form of qigong. The practice is performed through a series of slow-moving exercises for the mind and body. Due to the vast popularity of Falun Gong in China during the 1990s, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) became concerned that soon the group would outnumber the members of the CCP.  Soon, Jiang Zemin, the former leader of CCP, initiated violent persecution of the members of the Fulan Gong. The motive for The Epoch Time’s support of President Trump’s anti-Chinese attacks may lie in the background of the founders.

Policy Analysis
When we talk about The Epoch Times, we need to keep in mind its cultural, political, and religious history. It is, first and foremost, a nonprofit news media outlet founded by persecuted members of the Falun Gong in response to what it defines as “communist repression and censorship” by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Although the Epoch Times may officially disagree, it is essentially the public relations arm of the Falun Gong movement. It is the fastest-growing independent news media source in the U.S. and claims to be nonpartisan and free from the sway of any government, corporation, or political party. However, it altogether fails to suggest that it may be under the influence of a religious group.

When you watch a YouTube commercial for The Epoch Times, you are hit with a litany of conservative buzzwords such as “Deep State,” “traditional values,” and “fake news.” This would, off the top, seem to suggest that the nonpartisan part of their pitch may be fudging the lines. All of these buzzwords and the narrative that goes along with them is now a tried-and-true strategy by the right-wing, pro-Trump movement. Scrolling through The Epoch Times’ website, one see’s plenty of positive coverage of President Trump, an espousal of traditional and conservative values, and a lambasting of the CCP. Interestingly, the coronavirus is referred to in posted titles as the “CCP virus” rather than Trump’s preferred “China virus.” This, I believe, speaks to where The Epoch Times’ true loyalties lie and why the outlet has suddenly swung pro-Trump in the wake of the 2016 elections.

Trump has been, and promised to be while on the campaign trail, tough on China. He has waged a grueling trade war, repeatedly criticized the CCP, raged against communism, and is now blaming China for covering-up the coronavirus and causing the pandemic that threatens his re-election chances. Putting aside whether or not China is in fact responsible and any of these actions, one perceives an obvious pattern of Trump being more keen than past presidents to challenge China’s position on the world stage. He is, arguably, far more aggressive about his anti-CCP stance. This is a godsend for the Falun Gong. They have a man in the White House that attacks the CCP head-on. Trump’s anti-CCP agenda perfectly fits with the Falun Gong’s desires to see the regime toppled and an end to regime persecution.

It is no wonder that its mouthpiece, The Epoch Times, has re-defined itself as a rabidly pro-Trump, new-age conservative outlet. It can attract both Trump supporters and American conservatives with its already-present anti-CCP articles, stoke national anger, and direct this wrath towards ending regime. In addition, the Falun Gong movement shares the same beliefs as many main-stream American conservatives. It is all for a return to traditional values, is anti-abortion, and anti-LGBTQ. It’s a match made in heaven: an anti-CCP religious movement that has many of the same beliefs as the conservative tide, a president who is anti-CCP, an independent news outlet, and a listening right-wing audience.

All of this is not to say that the Falun Gong’s resentment of and desire to see the CCP toppled is not valid. The Falun Gong have been persecuted and had human rights atrocities committed against them. They have every reason to work towards the end of the CCP. However, as liberal-minded Americans, we must understand where right-wing supporters are receiving their news and why it is occurring. Ignoring this would be a great disservice to understanding our fellow Americans and the pro-Trump agenda that is being peddled.

Engagement Resources:

  • FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986.
  • ONA Ethics has created a “Build Your Own Ethics Code” project that recognizes that no single ethics code can reflect the needs of everyone in our widely varied profession. We believe the best hope for convincing all journalists to adopt and live by an ethics code is to give them ownership and flexibility in creating one.
  • The Ethical Journalism Network has already helped to strengthen ethical journalism in some of the most troubled and difficult corners of the world. They advise policymakers and human rights groups both in Europe and at a global level on hate speech, media literacy and media ethics.
  • Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) is a non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of Asian Americans and all of those in need. Founded in 1974 to advocate for equal rights, AAFE has transformed in the past four decades to become one of New York’s preeminent housing, social service and community development organizations.
  • Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus is the nation’s first legal and civil rights organization serving the low-income Asian Pacific American communities.

This brief was compiled by Erin Mayer. This brief was compiled by Erin Mayer. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact ErinMayer@USResistnews.org

China and Cuba Play a Global Leadership Role in the Fight Against the Coronavirus While the US Ops Out

China and Cuba Play a Global Leadership Role in the Fight Against the Coronavirus While the US Ops Out

As the coronavirus has spread across the world and effectively brought nation-states to their knees, we have seen an interesting soft power push by traditionally opposing powers of the West, and the U.S. in particular, to provide much-needed aid to thankful recipient governments. 

Policy Summary

As the coronavirus has spread across the world and effectively brought nation-states to their knees, we have seen an interesting soft power push by traditionally opposing powers of the West, and the U.S. in particular, to provide much-needed aid to thankful recipient governments. This is a model that the U.S. and the Trump administration should mirror, as it has both short- and long-term benefits in terms of forwarding American geopolitical ambitions and fighting the coronavirus scourge.

The foremost example is China. Although it will go down in the history books as the origin of the pandemic and blatantly mishandled the crisis initially, China has made great strides towards re-defining its international image as its domestic crisis has diminished. It has pledged testing kits to the Philippines, already donated testing kits to Cambodia, sent medical supplies and coronavirus experts to France and Italy, and has promised support to Spain and many others. It has also flown medical specialists to Iraq and Iran, along with medical equipment and supplies. Italy has been particularly accepting and grateful of China’s help, citing the fact that the European Union has done little to help them. Serbia has recently asked for assistance from China as well rather than their customary European allies, calling Xi Jinping a “brother” and a “friend” in the face of nonexistent European solidarity.

Then there’s Cuba, which arguably has the most well-established and best health care system in Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite the potential of attracting American ire, Jamaica and the local government of the north of Italy have both asked Cuba for nurses, equipment, and medical experts. Cuba has happily agreed and publicly stated that it has “solidarity with Italy.” Britain has also received assistance from Cuba, with the island nation being the only one in the Caribbean willing to allow an infected British cruise ship to dock on its shores.

Analysis:

In times of extreme need and crisis, usual, politically minded questions about motivations and underlying ambitions are ignored in pursuit of alleviation and resolution. Since the end of World War II and the Marshall Plan, the West has been the standard provider of humanitarian aid and the celebrant of mutual cooperation. However, the coronavirus has laid bare these claims of benevolence and the Trump administration’s historically go-it-alone strategy has no doubt severely weakened the international community’s faith in the established world order.

In such a vacuum, China has seen the opportunity to pacify international anger at its role in the spread of the pandemic, grow its soft power base, and further bolster its economy and domestic support. China has painted itself as a benevolent, accountable leader on the world stage, and this crisis is an excellent window to make headway. Although people may be furious at China for the pandemic, those that are drowning will never turn away a life raft, even if said raft come with its own geopolitical price tag. For example, the Iraqi and Chinese governments have recently announced that they are not simply confining their relationship to fighting the outbreak in Iraq, but to work within the oil industry and modernizing the country’s electric infrastructure. China has been actively preaching the advantages of political cooperation, and has chastised U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and Iran, protesting that they are violations of the spirit of humanity in such times of crisis. It has now been accepted and even praised by the governments of Europe that had previously been shut to its influence; a boon for its national propaganda machine that seeks to appease an agitated, post-virus populace. Its manufacturing centers for masks and other medical supplies are experiencing global demand. And while the U.S. sits idle and looks to its own self-interest, China bolsters its position.

Cuba has also lost no time in furthering its place as the provider of aid. With arguably the best health care system in the Caribbean and Latin America, Cuba is in a prime state to make use of the tenants of soft power. It has stated that the needed principles of common unity, transnational collaboration, and health as a human right are key to the, “humanist practices of the Revolution and of our people.” If anything, this crisis is a blessing for Cuba in the international relations sphere. With a strong domestic health care system, it can likely weather the pandemic, and by exporting medical professionals it garners popular support that had been previously unattainable under U.S. hegemony and international favor that will only help in the future.

The Trump administration should be looking at these examples and making similar steps to reach out and forge humanitarian connections with countries across the globe. Not only would this signal that the U.S. is more than a self-serving global hegemon and greatly reduce worldwide human suffering, but it would assist in maintaining America’s long-term power base. A world order arranged around a central power is only upheld by its members as long as said power is seen as being compassionate and pursuant of mutual benefit, and in this continuing pandemic, the U.S. is not displaying that it has the best interest of others at heart. In addition, it is necessary to end this brief by saying that this argument has placed all humanist and moral values aside, and that as human beings, we should work to reduce the suffering of others as much as possible. We are all human, after all. We should act like it.

Russia and the 2020 Elections

Russia and the 2020 Elections

Policy Summary

US intelligence officials have determined that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election. Additionally, they have deduced that Russia views Trump as a leader they can work with. Last week’s Intelligence  briefing of Congress about Russia’s interference  was spearheaded by election security official Shelby Pierson. The briefing, first reported by The New York Times, discussed details of Russia’s plan, which included “hacking, weaponizing social media and attacks on election infrastructure”, one of the sources said. The officials confirmed that Russia is partial to Trump. However, Russia’s activity showed they had a larger agenda, “designed to raise questions about the integrity of the elections process.”

Witnesses claim that when Trump heard about the briefing, he began to comment on the possibility of Democrats using it against him. The President became angry in a “meeting with outgoing acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire for allowing the information about Russia’s meddling efforts to be included in the briefing,”, according to a White House source.

President Barack Obama’s former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, commented that it is “quite predictable” of Russia to attempt to meddle in the United State’s upcoming election o during an interview with Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room”. Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election  was targeted at assisting Trump’s candidacy while damaging the candidacy of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. The possibility of further interference impacting the 2020 election will challenge US ability to stand up against international obstruction with our elections. This is an issue whose importance Trump has repeatedly minimized.

Policy Analysis

President Trump’s response to and retaliation against the claims of Russian election interference has been nothing if not predictable. On February 13th, he quickly removed the then-acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, upon hearing that Shelby Pierson, a high-ranking U.S. intelligence official, had alerted the House Intelligence Committee of Russian, pro-Trump interference in the 2020 election. According to testimony given to the committee, the Kremlin is supportive of Trump’s re-election, and is planning on and has begun efforts to interfere in the election process.

Trump’s response, as per usual, has been a “circle the wagons” approach. Calling Maguire into a meeting in the Oval Office on February 14th, Trump apparently upbraided him for his subordinate’s report and challenged his allegiance to the president. The next week, Trump made public that he would be replacing Maguire, who then resigned. U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, was announced as the new acting interim Director of National Intelligence, with the ambassador apparently keeping his position in Germany as well. Acting director is a position that Grenell can hold until March without Congressional approval. Grenell has been noted by many as an ardent Trump supporter and has little experience in national intelligence. He has worked as a Republican political advisor, spokesperson to the U.N. under the Bush administration, and media consultant. Facing criticism over the move and accusations of Trump cleaning house, the administration has pointed out that Maguire was set to be replaced in the near future due to federal law around term limits and claimed that the timing of his dismissal with the breaking of news about Russian interference is only chance. Trump has also taken to Twitter with accusations that the account of Russian interference in support of his re-election is propaganda spread by Democrats to oust him from power. Russia has denied the report, saying that it is based in paranoia and utterly false.

This is not the first time Russia has been accused of interference in a U.S. election in favor of Trump. Most can recall the 2016 elections and how Russia conducted social media promotions, spread false news, and hacked into and disseminated Democratic emails. Although evidence that Russia did in fact interfere surfaced and was brought to light by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, insufficient evidence of criminal conspiracy was found between the Kremlin or the Trump campaign. It was a story that made headlines, raised many an eyebrow, and called into question the legitimacy of Trump’s victory for some on the left, however. It would appear that Trump is once again rightly concerned about allegations and the implication that a rival power is interested in his successful re-election.

Trump’s reaction to the report by U.S. intelligence is hardly unexpected at this point. Looking back to Maguire’s predecessor, Dan Coats, one can almost discern a pattern. Coats was dismissed from his position three days after the now-infamous phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Trump attempted to replace Coats with John Ratcliffe, a Republican congressman with negligible national intelligence experience but who had been a fierce defender of the president. Ratcliffe would be rejected due to exaggerating his previous experience in intelligence (although as we go to press Trump has announced that he is going to re-nominate Ratcliffe to  serve as permanent DNI)

Anyone else noticing the parallel? A report that reflects poorly upon the president emerges from the intelligence community, the Director is dismissed (or resigns), and Trump attempts (unsuccessfully and successfully) to replace the intelligence professional with a loyalist. This should be extremely worrying to those on both the left and right. Trump does not appear to care about experience in his Cabinet or the facts. What matters is their personal loyalty to him and his brand. Does Trump have the power and right to choose those in his Cabinet? Yes, but this does not mean that the truth should be obscured or ignored. A Cabinet is not meant to be a board of lackeys that rubber-stamp whatever the president says and quash unwanted information. A foreign power interfering in a U.S. election is a national security issue and should be brought to public attention. It should not be brushed under the carpet because it damages a president’s possible re-election, no matter who the president is.

Engagement Resources:

  • FairVote is a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice, and a representative democracy that works for all Americans.
  • The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) advances good governance and democratic rights by providing technical assistance to election officials, empowering the underrepresented to participate in the political process, and applying field-based research to improve the electoral cycle.
  • Rock the Vote is a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to building the political power of young people.
  • International Republic Institute strengthens citizen voices and helps make their leaders more accountable and responsive. We help women and youth to be heard. We keep citizens and their government connected, and develop awareness of voter priorities.
  • HeadCount is a non-partisan organization that uses the power of music to register voters and promote participation in democracy. We reach young people and music fans where they already are – at concerts and online – to inform and empower.

This brief was compiled by Erin Mayer. This brief was compiled by Erin Mayer. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact ErinMayer@USResistnews.org

The Trump Administration’s Anti-Peace Plan

The Trump Administration’s Anti-Peace Plan

Policy Summary:

On January 28th the US government unveiled its long awaited Middle Eastern “Peace Plan” by Jared Kushner. The plan would permit Israel to annex all its illegal settlements and the Jordan Valley. The Palestinian government is striving for an independent state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, areas currently under Israeli control. The peace plan, announced by Jared Kushner, would permit Israel to maintain such territories as the West Bank, the Jordan Valley, and Jerusalem. This would allow nearly 700,000 Israeli settlers to remain on lands captured by Israel; settlements the UN has deemed illegal. The plan would further permit Israeli authority over the currently divided Jerusalem, pushing the Palestinians to establish the capital of a new Palestinian state in a poor neighborhood in east Jerusalem, and cutting it off from the city by a concrete separation barrier. This new Palestinian state would be demilitarized and left under the significant security control of Israel.

Policy Analysis:

The “peace deal” was authored by White House adviser Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law. Critics are claiming Trump’s plan is the antithesis of a peace plan as well as the timing of its release being of great question. The proposal was unveiled just hours after Netanyahu was formally indicted on corruption charges in Israel and also during the second week of an impeachment trial against Trump in the U.S. Senate. Following the announcement, the Plan was met with protests and denunciation by Palestinians.

To date, 94% of Palestinians reject Trump’s plan. Palestinian political leadership pressed the international community to reject the Trump administration’s plan. Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said of the deal, “nothing but a plan to finish off the Palestinian cause.  “This is a plan to protect Trump from impeachment and protect Netanyahu from prison. It is not a Middle East peace plan. We reject it and we demand the international community not be a partner.” After the announcement of the peace plan, Kushner blamed Palestine’s President, Mahmoud Abbas, for the escalation in violence occurring in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Kushner claimed President Abbas “calls for days of rage in response and (Abbas) said that even before he saw the plan.”

On February 7th, over 100 House Democrats signed a letter, renouncing President Trump’s Middle East peace plan. The letter addressed to the President claimed it would “hurt Israelis and Palestinians alike, pushing them toward further conflict.” The open letter, spearheaded by Democratic Representatives Alan Lowenthal of California and Andy Levin of Michigan, warned that Trump’s plan “paves the way for a permanent occupation of the West Bank. It does not have our support, and the Israeli government must not take it as license to violate International law by annexing all or portions of the West Bank.”

Trump’s Peace Plan is not only impacting Israel and Palestine. On February 6th, the Tunisian government fired their ambassador to the United Nations, Moncef Baati. Baati was accused of “leading diplomatic negotiations on a Palestinian draft Security Resolution declaring U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan in breach of international law, according to three diplomats”, according to the Foreign Press. A foreign ministry statement expressed the government’s explanation for the dismissal of Baati, “Tunisia’s ambassador to the United Nations has been dismissed for purely professional reasons concerning his weak performance and lack of coordination with the ministry on important matters under discussion at the UN.” However according to three diplomats, Baati had allegedly  been heading “diplomatic negotiations on a Palestinian draft Security Resolution declaring US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan in breach of international law,” reported by Foreign Policy. However, the Tunisian President Kais Saied’s choice to fire Baati seems to have backfired. President Saied’s methods were called into question over the dismissal of Tunis’ UN envoy. “The manner in which the dismissal was carried out raises many questions around the diplomatic strategy of the presidency” said political commentator Youssef Cherif.

Engagement Resources:

  • Alliance for Middle East Peace envision a Middle East in which Israelis and Palestinians have built the trust necessary to live in peace and security, prospering in societies that protect their human and civil rights. The group secures and scales up funding to expand trust-building interactions between Palestinians and Israelis.
  • A Land for All is a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization that strives to promote a new paradigm for solving the conflict based on trust and partnership rather than separation. The solution derives from the confederation model and suggest two independent states within the 1967 borders in a way that will meet the desire of the two peoples for self-determination alongside freedom of movement and residence in the entire area between the Jordan River and the sea.
  • Arab-Jewish Community Center, Jaffa, fosters better understanding, tolerance, and democratic values among Jewish, Christian, and Muslim populations in Jaffa while preserving ethnic, religious and national identities. The Center provides the community with a wide variety of programs, ranging from social welfare and assistance to families in need, to educational programs, empowerment initiatives, multi-cultural events and celebrations.
  • MEPEACE is a non-profit organization, which aims to foster a growing community of peacemakers. Its peacemakers, from 175 countries, are committed to realizing peace in the Middle East through online and on the ground efforts.

This brief was compiled by Erin Mayer. This brief was compiled by Erin Mayer. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact ErinMayer@USResistnews.org

Trump Lifts Restrictions on Military Use of Land Mines

Trump Lifts Restrictions on Military Use of Land Mines

Policy Summary

Last week, the Trump administration announced that it would be lifting the 2014 Obama-era restriction on the use of so-called “smart” landmines for the Department of Defense in conflict areas, which had been previously confined to the border of North and South Korea. In statements made by both Pentagon and administration officials, it was said that the new policy would only pertain to the use of anti-personnel landmines in war zones where “exceptional circumstances” required or there were “major contingencies” that demanded said use. There was no given clarification on what these circumstances or contingencies were. The reversal was limited to new age, non-persistent anti-personnel mines that are advertised as being specifically designed to diminish accidental damage and injury to civilians, American troops, and allied forces. These mines are built with internal or on-command self-destruct or self-deactivation mechanisms and are referred to as “smart” rather than “dumb” mines that lack such features. The Trump administration took the policy a step further by reassigning authority to deploy smart landmines from the Secretary of Defense to military commanders directly involved in the conflict in question. However, the commander must notify the Secretary of Defense after they have authorized the use of mines, although it was not said whether an explanation had to be given as to why. This decision cannot be made by any military official under the rank of four-star, and the smart mines must self-destruct or self-deactivate after 30 days have passed.

Smart landmines have been in development by arms producers since at least the Bush-era, with self-destruction and self-deactivation typically being accomplished through an internal clock, a battery that eventually runs out, radio communication, or network sensors. There has been some debate over whether smart mines are actually as smart as they claim to be, however. Some will likely fail despite not being designed to, with the Landmine Protocol of Certain Conventional Weapons allowing for an expected 10% failure rate in smart mines.

The Trump administration defended its reversal of landmine policy by claiming that Obama’s restrictions placed U.S. troops and the military as a whole at a severe disadvantage against its enemies and that Trump himself was unwilling to accept the risk to troop’s lives. The Pentagon’s interim Assistant Secretary for Strategy Vice Mercado said that the policy shift was made due to a calculation of “great power competition,” which points to the belief within the executive branch that China and Russia will either utilize landmines in conflicts, leaving the U.S. at a disadvantage, or that landmines are critical to U.S. resistance to expansionist foreign powers. When asked, Mercado added that he did not anticipate a need to use landmines in war zones similar to Afghanistan and Syria.

Analysis:

Any discussion of landmine use has to begin with the fact that the vast majority of landmine-related casualties are civilians. Mines are not designed to nor are they intelligent enough to differentiate between combatants and civilians. 71% of the global casualties caused by landmines in 2018 were civilians according to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor. This is actually lower than previous years, with the highest reported in recent times being 87%. According to New Atlas, half of adults who step on land mines die before reaching the hospital, with the number being even higher in children due to their smaller size. Mines themselves are exceptionally expensive to clear, with the average cost being around $2,000 per unit. The cost of clearing all of the world’s currently sown landmines is estimated at $33 billion dollars. The Federation of American Scientists have also pointed out that along with smart mine technology, weapons producers have also rolled out innovative designs that boast little to no metal content to evade detection and increased shrapnel projection, making modern mines even more difficult to detect and far more deadly. Some landmines now incorporate anti-handling devices that make clearing near impossible, with a few particularly horrific examples being specifically designed to appeal to children. According to CARE, someone dies every 15 minutes from a land mine.

The case of using landmines must be weighed against the significant cost to civilians. Although smart landmines may reduce the number of civilian casualties, they do not wholly eliminate them. There is still a 10% allowable failure rate, and even if it does deactivate or self-destruct as designed, within the 30 days that it is live, it can just as easily kill as a civilian as it can a combatant. It is immoral and reprehensible for the U.S. to willing allow the use of devices of war that so disproportionally affect non-combatants. The Trump administration also said that it only reversed the ban on smart mines on the basis of suspicion that “great powers” (which likely refer to China and Russia) would use them or that landmines are needed military resource. First, this is rather hypocritical, as the U.S. has similarly refused to sign international standards that would limit the use of landmines in combat. Second, China and Russia have appeared to challenge the U.S.-led world order through either proxy wars, such as the Syrian Civil War, or slow on-set testing, such as Chinese maneuverings in the South China Sea. Will American military commanders be green lighting the sowing of landmines against proxy forces or only against Chinese and Russian troops? There is an extreme degree of ambiguity and free reign under this policy, and it should worry any who are concerned about executive power, military power, the military-industrial complex, and humanitarian issues. Are landmines so critical to “great power competition” that the U.S. can justify enormous civilian casualties? The U.S. should be leading by example, not given the military a long and rather vague leash to determine where and when it is appropriate to utilize devices that overwhelmingly affect innocent lives.

Engagement Resources:

  • The HALO Trust – committed to demining efforts the world over.
  • GICHD – devoted to assisting states in managing their ammunition according to humanitarian best practices.
Trump’s 3 Million Dollar Iran Problem

Trump’s 3 Million Dollar Iran Problem

Policy Summary:

After Iran attacked Iraqi bases that house U.S. forces with missiles and only a few, short days after the Trump administration assassinated Qasem Soleimani, a high-ranking military commander, the president addressed the nation. Trump began his speech, with “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.” The President also confirmed that there were no American deaths due to the attacks and only “minimal” damage to the bases. He also said Iran “appears to be standing down.”

Shortly thereafter, Iran stated that several individuals were apprehended in regard to the Islamic Republic’s firing down of a Ukrainian jetliner killing all 176 people on board, earlier this month. Although, Iran admitted to the demise of the aircraft, due to intense international pressure, the president of Iran still attributed “root causes” of the attack were U.S. actions. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, “It was the US that caused such an incident to take place.” The Iranian regime has accused the U.S.’s administration for straining relations with the assassination of senior Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani on January 2nd, in Baghdad. Most recently, this Tuesday, Ahmad Hamzeh, an Iranian legislator, offered a three million dollar bounty to “anyone who kills” US President Donald Trump in retaliation for the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.

Analysis:

The assassination of General Qassem Suleimani has crippled the Trump Administration’s priorities in much of the Middle East. The assasination of Suleimani will come with numerous ramifications for the area’s international relations, military balance in the region, the ongoing battle against islamic extremist groups and Iran’s nuclear program. The Iraqi parliament has decided to have five thousand U.S. troops removed from the country. Nearly two decades following the United States’ invasion, the status of American troops is quickly no longer secure. Soon after, Baghdad requested a plan for withdrawal from the Trump Administration.

The Trump Administration’s has to consider how this will impact relations with Iran. After decades of U.S. leaders attempting to broker the Iran nuclear deal, curbing Tehran’s nuclear program for a projected 25 years, the plan may be in shambles. International tensions have increased dramatically since Trump pulled out of the nuclear accord and imposed overwhelming US sanctions. In response, Iran has gradually moved back from their initial agreements and compromises to the deal. A mere two days after the assassination of  Suleimani, Iran stated they would no longer abide to a limitation in the number of centrifuges for enriching uranium.

The three-million-dollar death threat hanging over Trump’s head was announced on Tuesday evening. American disarmament ambassador Robert Wood dismissed the reward as “ridiculous”, telling reporters in Geneva it showed the “terrorist underpinnings” of Iran’s establishment.”(Read more here)  Hamzeh has accredited the bounty he declared on Trump’s head as one of Iran’s last choices after the Iran Nuclear Deal left the country without nuclear weapons. “If we had nuclear weapons today, we would be protected from threats. … We should put the production of long-range missiles capable of carrying unconventional warheads on our agenda,” Hamzeh told the parliament, according to ISNA. “This is our natural right.” Hamzeh’s statements were declared after the United Kingdom, Germany, and France began considering possible sanctions to be re-imposed on Iran if the nation persists in moving away from the international nuclear deal. “We have therefore been left with no choice, given Iran’s actions, but to register today our concerns that Iran is not meeting its commitments,” the foreign ministers of the three countries had written in a letter to the European Union’s foreign policy chief.

Engagement Resources:

  • Peace Action works for smarter approaches to global problems, addressing problems like war, the nuclear threat, poverty, climate change, and terrorism. The organization believes the U.S. needs to work together, cooperatively, with other nations.
  • Peace Spirit Foundation is a civil society organization which has been working for 13 years. Their main goal is to attempt to bring peace to Iran.
  • Ploughshares Fund has supported the most effective people and organizations in the world to reduce and eventually eliminate the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. Sign their petition urging Congress to stand up against war with Iran here

This brief was compiled by Erin Mayer. This brief was compiled by Erin Mayer. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact ErinMayer@USResistnews.org

Photo by unsplash-logoOmid Armin

A Review of the Trump/Soleimani Incident

A Review of the Trump/Soleimani Incident

As your news feed can no doubt tell you, Qassem Soleimani, Major-General of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was killed in an air strike on the Baghdad International airport at the direction of President Trump on January 3rd. This brief is not interested in the event itself, but in the justification for and the potential fallout surrounding the killing.

In order to understand the potential impact of the air strike, we must first look at the man at the center of it all: Qassem Soleimani. He was not a terrorist leader of the same ilk as Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Soleimani was one of the foremost public figures in Iran, perhaps even the most admired and well-liked official in a regime that was and continues to lack in public support. Soleimani had commanded forces in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980, for which he gained widespread acclaim and was later hailed as a national hero. He would eventually rise through the ranks of the Revolutionary Guard to command the Quds Force, an elite branch responsible for overseas clandestine operations such as sabotage, terror attacks, and equipping militias that act as Iran’s proxy forces in regional power struggles. Due to his popularity, distinguished military service, and command of the Quds Force, Soleimani became the mouthpiece for Iran’s expansionist aspirations in the Middle East. He reported directly to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and controlled a network of over 10,000 troops that stretched across international borders. He was not and should not be seen as equivalent to other terrorists that the U.S. has killed in the past. This would be both a falsehood and utterly disregard Soleimani’s importance and power.

Turning to Iran itself, it has been steadily increasing its regional control, taking advantage of the power vacuum that was created by the U.S.’s toppling of the Hussein regime and then largely abandoned by the slow U.S. withdrawal following the contracted occupation of Iraq. Iran also capitalized on the supplementary destabilization of the Arab Spring and the Syrian Civil War, with much of the Middle East dissolving into sectarian Sunni versus Shi’a conflicts as state identities collapsed.

The Trump administration has been progressively re-instituting and increasing economic sanctions upon Iran following the administration’s refusal to abide by the Obama-era nuclear deal, with the hope being that Iran would be forced to rejoin the negotiation table on the Trump administration’s terms. Despite Trump’s tough talk on Iran, he has been largely reluctant to resort to military means despite Iran progressively pushing the envelope. Iran has attacked oil tankers, shot down a U.S. drone, and bombed Saudi oil facilities. However, Trump largely ignored these provocations outside of threats; only responding with force when an Iranian-backed militia killed a U.S. contractor at an Iraqi military base in December. In both this case and the case of Soleimani, Trump retaliated using air strikes. This appears to be his punitive tool of choice, and it would seem that outside of the death of Americans, he is unwilling to react militarily against Iran. Punishment appears to be his driver, not defense or offense.

In terms of U.S. national interest, it is good that Soleimani is dead. His Quds Force provided Iraqis with bomb-making equipment and training during the Iraq War, along with funding and arming militias that attacked American troops and diplomats. The air strike was lauded by regional American allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, who view Iran as a rising and hostile regional power. Russia denounced the air strike, but this is to be expected, as it approves of Iran’s regional aspirations that disrupt American influence in the Middle East.

The justification for the air strike was to deter Iranian attacks upon Americans, particularly U.S. embassies. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the administration received evidence of pending Iranian strikes, with Soleimani having developed plots to target American diplomats and military forces in Iraq and the region. Ayatollah Khamenei has promised reprisals for the killing of Soleimani, and cyber and terrorist attacks are anticipated against American national interests and allies. The U.S. Iraqi embassy has urged all Americans to leave Iraq and 3,500 troops have been deployed to the Middle East. The supposed outcome of deterring Iranian aggression has not taken place. In fact, assassinating an enemy politician is not a typical form of deterrence. Usually one would expect a threat. Putting this aside, it would appear that neither the Trump administration nor the world believes the claim that Soleimani’s death will discourage Iranian attacks.

There are also questions of whether Trump ordered the strike to distract from or increase his backing for the impending Senate impeachment trial. It was said by intelligence officials informed of the strike that the provided data on Soleimani’s movements was imperfect at best. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that he had not been given any specific evidence that Iran was planning to attack four U.S. embassies as Trump claimed. Even Republican Senator Mike Lee said that many of those Republican congressmen given access to justification for the strike were concerned about the reliability of the evidence provided and were not given specific details outside of the assertion that attacks upon U.S. embassies were imminent. Trump also reportedly told allies that he was under pressure from key Republican senators to somehow take care of Soleimani. Vice President Pence further contradicted the official story of imminent threats to U.S. embassies by opening a Trump rally in Toledo with the statement that as soon as the U.S. contractor was killed in the Iraqi rocket strike, that the Trump administration had decided to retaliate. All of these statements would suggest that Soleimani’s killing was not an act of deterrence nor was it based upon credible evidence of future attacks. It was at best a political calculation, and at worst a gamble by a desperate president.

Before Soleimani’s assassination, Iran’s influence in Iraq was under attack and the Iranian regime itself was under pressure at home. In early December, Iraqis were protesting and setting fire to the Iranian consulate in Najaf and calling for Iran to be expelled from the country. In November, Iran was rocked by a series of wide-spread anti-government protests and rioting that developed into calls for the Ayatollah’s resignation and against regime corruption. It seemed that before the strike the U.S. had a rare opportunity to capitalize upon demands for a reduction in Iranian influence and an Iranian population that desired change. As you read this brief, there is domestic backlash in Iran against the regime and calls for the Ayatollah to step down due to the downing of a Ukrainian Boeing civilian aircraft. This is not the Iran of the late 1970s. It would appear that young Iranians and many others are not pleased with the regime and are demanding coherent change.

In conclusion, Trump has gambled military losses, regional stability, terrorism, and national interests for political interest. The Iranian regime is unpopular. Iraqis were calling for resistance against Iranian influence. Soleimani’s death was not viewed as deterrence. Iraqi popular opinion has turned against the U.S. Evidence of justification was limited. All of these factors should have been considered or should further illustrate that the Trump administration is neither effective nor prudent when it comes to foreign policy. In addition, last Tuesday, Iran launched a missile strike upon an Iraqi military base known to house U.S. troops, but no Americans were present. It would appear that although Iran is attempting to flex its muscles and demonstrate capacity, it is altogether unwilling to commit to war, as is the U.S. The supposed showdown could be and is looking like nothing but hot air, but this does not excuse the actions of the Trump administration. As said before, it was gamble that may be paying off, but a gamble nonetheless that was expected to and could still have staggering ramifications.

Engagement Resources:

Photo by Hasan Almasi

Trump, Israel and the Middle East

Trump, Israel and the Middle East

Policy Summary

Military relations between Israel and the United States have remained close year after year. This union portrays a mutual interest in security throughout the Middle East. This was confirmed this Sunday as President Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss Iran and a number of other international issues. The White House released an email statement reading, “The leaders discussed the threat from Iran, as well as other critical bilateral and regional issues”. Reuters reported, “Relations between Iran and the United States have worsened since last year when Trump pulled out of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and re-imposed sanctions on the country.”

Analysis

During the Obama Administration’s time in the White House, U.S.-Israel relations took a significant hit. In many ways, the Trump administration has created a sentiment of good will between the two nations. It began with the controversial choice to position the American embassy to Jerusalem as a reassuring nod that the city was the capital of the Jewish state. Eventually this led to the State Department announcing that it will no longer regard Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as “illegal”, although the UN has indeed deemed them as so.

This new sense of mutual kinship between the two countries has been further strengthened by Israel’s increasingly bolstered alliance with Saudi Arabia. Israel and Saudi Arabia creating these ties greatly benefits the U.S. First, the two are arguably the United States’ most crucial allies in the Middle East. Secondly, both nations are also leading purchasers of arms made in the U.S. Lastly, the two nations are predicted to band together to work to impede  Iranian expansionism in the area. All of these reasons result in a very pleased Trump Administration.

However, it has been made clear by Iran that they are not turning a blind eye to the union. Hossein Salami, the Head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, made the statement in a televised speech, making sure not to mince his words. “We have shown restraint … we have shown patience towards the hostile moves of America, the Zionist regime (Israel) and Saudi Arabia against the Islamic Republic of Iran … but we will destroy them if they cross our red lines,” he said in response to the developing multi-national ties.

Recently, Iran has proudly claimed responsibility for the September attack on Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil facilities. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned that he believed Iran was devising “additional attacks.” The Prime Minister employed the international community to put pressure on the state of Iran and to “support Israel when it is acting against this aggression.” The United States involvement with Saudi Arabia and its patent  favoritism toward Israel, while shunning Palestine, has only heightened current tensions with Iran. Where these potentially deadly tensions will lead to has yet to be seenn

Engagement Resources:

  • Peace Action places pressure on Congress and the administration through write-in campaigns, petitions, internet actions, grassroots lobbying, direct lobbying, electoral campaigns and direct action for issues such as international relations
  • Alliance for Middle East Peace works for peace in the Middle East, specifically between Israelis and Palestinians, by securing and scaling up funding to expand trust-building interactions between Palestinians and Israelis.
  • United Nations Peacekeeping’s (UNTSO) military observers have remained in the Middle East to monitor ceasefires, supervise armistice agreements, prevent isolated incidents from escalating and assist other UN peacekeeping operations in the region to fulfil their respective mandates
  • The Foundation for Middle East Peace promotes a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through education and advocacy.

 

This Brief was posted by USRESIST NEWS Analyst  Erin Mayer

Photo by Mariam Soliman

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