This Week in Iran Policy

Office of the Spokesperson

The world needs to unite around the central idea that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the greatest threat, and when that regime changes its behavior, we have the chance to create true global stability in the region. It’s what President @realDonaldTrump asked us to do.”

– Secretary Pompeo Tweet, September 21, 2020

 Major New Human Rights-Related Listings and Accompanying Sanctions on Iran, September 24.

  • The United States sanctioned several Iranian officials and entities for gross violations of human rights. Pursuant to Section 106 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA), I determined that Judge Seyyed Mahmoud Sadati, Judge Mohammad Soltani, Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court of Shiraz, and Adelabad, Orumiyeh, and Vakilabad Prisons were responsible for certain gross violations of human rights. This includes prior incidence of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary detentions, and denials of the right to liberty of those seeking only to practice their faith, peacefully assemble, or to express themselves. 
  • For more information, please see the entire statement here.

Press Availability on Iran Snapback Sanctions, September 21

Secretary of state Michael R. Pompeo

  • The President’s executive order announced today gives us a new and powerful tool to enforce the UN arms embargo and hold those who seek to evade UN sanctions accountable. Today, I will take the first action under this new executive order by sanctioning the Iranian Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, and Iran’s Defense Industries Organization and its director.”

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin

  • “Today, the Treasury Department is designating entities that support Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and senior officials overseeing Iran’s nuclear power ballistic missile development.  A number of our targets today are affiliated with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which has operational and regulatory control over the nuclear program and bears responsibility for nuclear research and development.  Three of the deputy directors have been sanctioned today, as well as three entities subordinate to AEOI that are active components of Iran’s civil nuclear program.”

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper

  • “This executive order will further disrupt Iranian efforts to import and proliferate conventional weapons, helping protect U.S. forces, our allies and partners, and civilian populations until Iran complies with international norms.  We encourage Tehran to cease its malign activities throughout the region and to act like a normal country.  But we are also prepared to respond to Iranian aggression.  Our commanders have the authorities and resources they need to protect their troops and to prepare for any contingencies, and we continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies and partners to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior.  In doing so, we will protect our people and our interests and maintain the security of likeminded nations across the region.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross, jR.

  • “I’m grateful for the President’s commitment to ending Iran’s nuclear ballistic missile and conventional weapons undertakings that threaten and terrorize the rest of the world.  Today, U.S. Department of Commerce is adding five Iranian scientists to the entity list for enabling or assisting Iran’s nuclear development program.  The individuals added to the list are Ahmad Nozad Gholik, Behnam Pouremadi, Hamid Sepehrian, Mojtaba Farhadi Ganjeh, Sayyed Javad Ahmadi.  Pouremadi (inaudible) and Ganjeh are associated with Iran’s JHL laboratory, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran involved in nuclear activities and designated by the United States Security Council – by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1803 on Iran’s nuclear program.”

U.S. Representative to the United Nations AMBASSADOR Kelly Craft

  • “The actions we’re announcing today and our work in the Security Council over the last three months have been driven by a single purpose: the pursuit of peace.  What makes America unique is that we stand up for what is right.  As we have in the past, we will stand alone to protect peace and security at all times.  We don’t need a cheering section to validate our moral compass.  We do not find comfort based solely on numbers, particularly when the majority has found themselves in an uncomfortable position of underwriting terrorism, chaos, and conflict.  We refuse to be members of that club.”

National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien

  • “What we want is a great deal with Iran, and what the President has said is if Iran is willing to forswear regional terrorism and proxy wars and is willing to end its pursuit of a nuclear bomb, Iran could be a tremendously prosperous state.  It has tremendous oil reserves.  It could be just a beacon in the Middle East, and the Iranian people, most importantly, could enjoy prosperity and peace.  Unfortunately, the regime hasn’t chosen that route.  We’re hoping that with these renewed sanctions that will be some inducement for Iran to change its behavior.  Thank you”
  • For more information, please see all statements here.

Prepared Testimony of Special Representative Elliott Abrams for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on THE Middle East, September 24.

  • This administration harbors no illusions about the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is the principal driver of instability and violence in the Middle East, and it remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and anti-Semitism. It remains in power through brutal repression of the Iranian people
  • We have approached the threats from Iran with a strategy that has two primary objectives. First, to deprive the Iranian regime of the money it needs to support its destabilizing activities. Second, to bring Iran to the negotiating table to conclude a comprehensive deal, as outlined by Secretary Pompeo in May 2018.
  • The legally binding agreement we seek with the Iranian regime must address four key areas: its nuclear program, its ballistic missile development and proliferation, its support to terror groups and proxies, and its wrongful detention of U.S. citizens, including Siamak and Baquer Namazi, and Morad Tahbaz. The United States is also calling on the Iranian regime to provide a full accounting of the fate of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing in Iran in 2007. The United States is open to negotiate with Iran and meet without preconditions. The regime need only meet our diplomacy with diplomacy, not with violence, bloodshed, and attempted extortions.
  • For more information, please see the entire prepared testimony here.

FACTSHEET:  Sweeping U.S. Measures to Support Return of UN Sanctions Relating to Iran’s Nuclear, Missile, and Conventional Arms Programs, September 21.

  • Now that virtually all UN sanctions have been re-imposed on Iran, stakeholders worldwide are warned that the United States will aggressively use U.S. sanctions authorities to impose consequences for failures to comply with the snapped-back UN measures on Iran and ensure that Iran does not reap the benefits of UN-prohibited activity.
  • For more information, please see the full factsheet here.

Statement: The United States Imposes Sweeping New Sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran, September 21.

The Trump Administration has made clear that the United States will do whatever it takes to prevent the Islamic Republic of Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and anti-Semitism, from spreading death and mayhem throughout the Middle East and the world. Rather than wait for the day that Iran threatens the world with a nuclear weapon, the United States is again fulfilling the best traditions of American global leadership and taking responsible action.

Under the leadership of President Donald J. Trump, the Departments of State, Treasury, and Commerce took significant action to counter Iranian nuclear threats as well as missile and conventional arms proliferation.

Actions include:

  • Issuance by President Trump of a new Executive Order targeting Iran-related conventional arms transfers. The UN arms embargo on Iran is now re-imposed indefinitely, and we will ensure that it remains in place until Iran changes its behavior. The new Executive Order gives us the tools to hold accountable actors who seek to evade the embargo.
  • Designation by the Department of State of Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), Iran’s Defense Industries Organization (DIO) and its Director, Mehrdad Akhlaghi-Ketabchi, as well as Nicolas Maduro, the illegitimate dictator of Venezuela, for conventional arms-related activities pursuant to the new Iran Conventional Arms Executive Order.
  • Designation by the Departments of State and Treasury of six individuals and three entities associated with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) pursuant to Executive Order 13382 (WMD Proliferators and Their Supporters). This action includes one individual and one entity who were re-listed by the UN sanctions that returned on September 19, 2020.
  • Addition of five individuals affiliated with the AEOI to the Commerce Department’s Entity List, which will impose export control restrictions on these individuals.
  • Designation by the Department of Treasury of three individuals and four entities associated with Iran’s liquid propellant ballistic missile organization, the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHIG) pursuant to Executive Order 13382, and updates to the existing sanctions listings for two SHIG individuals already designated pursuant to Executive Order 13382.
  • For more information and to view the full statement, please see here.

Outlaw Regime: A Chronicle of Iran’s Destructive Activities, 2020, September 19.

  • The report covers Iran’s support for terrorism, its missile program, illicit financial activities, threats to maritime security and cybersecurity, human rights abuses, as well as environmental exploitation.
  • For more information, please see the full factsheet here.

 NOTABLE TWEETS

@statedeptspox Sep 25

Iran has continued to defy the provisions of UNSCR 2231, and its pace of missile launches and tests has not diminished since this resolution went into force in 2016. http://go.usa.gov/xGPBs

@SecPompeo Sep 24

Navid’s death must not be in vain: peace-loving nations should condemn his execution and Iran’s egregious human rights violations, and reaffirm respect for the freedom, dignity, and equality of every person. The United States will continue to stand with the Iranian people.

@SecPompeo Sep 24

The Iranian regime has subverted its system of justice into a cruel system of repression. Today, the U.S. is sanctioning several Iranian officials and entities for gross violations of human rights, including one of the judges who reportedly sentenced #NavidAfkari to death.

@statedeptspox Sep 25

The U.S. is sanctioning an Iranian court, two judges, and three prisons for gross violations of human rights. Iran’s Revolutionary courts and their judges are tools to enforce the Iranian regime’s brutal ideology. They administer repression, not justice.

@statedeptspox Sep 24

Fact: To date, Iran has failed to fully address multiple separate questions raised by the @IAEAorg about possible undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.

@statedeptspox Sep 23

The U.S. remains deeply concerned for the well-being of Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been recently hospitalized in prison. We stand with Nasrin in her steadfast fight for human rights in Iran and call for her release. We condemn the ​regime’s barbarous use of unjust imprisonment.

@SecPompeo Sep 21

I hope Europeans will come to understand that if you really want to lead, if you really want to be part of a global coalition to reduce risk in the Middle East, then you need to join us. We need these sanctions to snap back.

@SecPompeo Sep 21

Rather than waiting for Iran to threaten the world, the U.S. is taking sweeping actions to prevent the world’s top state sponsor of terror from obtaining a nuclear weapon. This includes sanctions on 25 entities and individuals. We are keeping Americans and world citizens safe!

@statedeptspox Sep 21

Maximum pressure on the Iranian regime continues! We are sanctioning entities and officials in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs among others. The U.S. is open to diplomacy but Iran must first end its violence, bloodshed, and nuclear extortion.

@SecPompeo Sep 20

What @realDonaldTrump has said is we’re going to deny the resources. We’re not going to send crates of cash. We’re not going to allow them to do business in the world. We’re not going to allow them to create the very wealth that destroys the opportunity for peace.

@SecPompeo Sep 20

Last night at midnight, the @UN sanctions snapped back, putting another increasing restraint on the capacity for the Islamic Republic of Iran to create harm in the Middle East. The United States has led and will prevent arms trafficking by Iran.

@statedeptspox Sep 20

2. How many children did Iran execute in the last year? Why does Iran have the highest rate (per capita) of child executions in the world? Is it true that your government killed 23 children last November? If not, what happened to them? #QuestionsforZarif

@statedeptspox Sep 20

Before your government executed Navid Afkari, he was repeatedly tortured and his confession televised on Iranian state TV. Do you torture all your political prisoners, or just when you want to televise their confessions and need to make sure they comply? #QuestionsforZarif

@SecPompeo Sep 19

Why is the Islamic Republic of Iran so dangerous? It is an outlaw regime that will do whatever it takes to maintain its grip on power and spread its violent, revolutionary ideology. Read our full report. https://t.co/shFXR2nSWu?amp=1

Hits: 1

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Measures of older individuals' adverse debt outcomes, including their share of mortgage and credit card debt that was late by at least 90 days, generally followed economic trends, peaking after the Great Recession of 2007-2009, according to GAO's analysis of Consumer Credit Panel (CCP) data from 2003 to 2019. However, the share of student loan debt that was late was significantly higher for older individuals in 2019 than in 2003. These trends in debt, debt stress, and adverse debt outcomes varied by older Americans' demographic and economic characteristics, including their age, credit score, and state of residence. For example, from 2003 to 2019, individuals in their late 70s often had higher shares of credit card and student loan debt that was late than those aged 50-74. In addition, older individuals with credit scores below 720—including those with subprime, fair, or good credit—had median student loan debt amounts that were more than twice as high in 2019 as in 2003. Further, older individuals in the Southeast and West had much higher median mortgage and student loan debt, as well as student loan delinquency rates, in 2019 than in 2003. Percent of Households Age 50 or Older with Any Debt (Left) and Median Leverage Ratio (Right) for These Households, 1989 to 2016 Note: The bars above and below the lines represent the bounds of 95 percent confidence intervals. While older Americans' overall debt and debt stress decreased as they aged, those in low-income households experienced greater debt stress according to GAO's analysis of Health and Retirement Study (HRS) data, a nationally representative survey that follows the same individuals over time. The share of older households in this cohort that had debt continuously decreased as they aged, from about 66 percent of households in 1992 to 38 percent in 2016, and the median leverage ratio declined from about 19 to 13 percent over this period (see figure). However, low-income households in this cohort consistently had greater levels of debt stress than high-income households. This disparity in debt stress increased as these households aged. Estimated Percent of Households with Any Debt for Those Born in 1931-1941 (Left) and Median Leverage Ratio for Those Households from 1992-2016 (Right) Notes: The lines overlapping the bars represent 95 percent confidence intervals. According to experts GAO interviewed, differences in debt type (that is, credit card versus housing debt) and debt stress levels will have varying effects on the retirement security of different groups. For example, experts noted that credit card debt has negative implications for older Americans' retirement security because credit cards often have high, variable interest rates and are not secured by any assets. In contrast, an increase in mortgage debt may have positive effects on retirement security because a home is generally a wealth-building asset. Experts also said that older individuals with lower incomes and unexpected health expenses are likely to experience greater debt stress, which can negatively affect retirement security. Similarly, experts noted that the increased debt stress faced by low-income households is also faced by non-White households. Further, GAO's analysis of data from the Survey of Consumer Finances found that in 2016, debt stress levels were about two times higher for Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Other/multiple-race households than for White households. Experts GAO interviewed noted it is too early to evaluate the retirement security implications of the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because CARES Act provisions suspend or forbear certain debt payments. However, as with past recessions, the COVID-19-related recession may reveal any economic fragility among older Americans who, for example, lost jobs or cannot work because of the pandemic. Why GAO Did This Study GAO reported in 2019 that an estimated 20 percent of older American households aged 55 or older had less than $22,000 in income in 2016 and GAO reported in 2015 that about 29 percent of older households had neither retirement savings accounts (such as a 401(k) plan) nor a defined benefit plan in 2013. Older Americans held nearly half of the total outstanding debt in 2020—and these debts may affect retirement security. The Census Bureau projects the number of older Americans will increase. GAO was asked to report on debt held by older Americans. This report examines (1) how the types, levels, and outcomes of debt changed for older Americans over time, including for different demographic and economic groups; (2) how the types and levels of debt held by the same older Americans changed as they aged, including for those in different demographic groups; and (3) the implications of these debt trends for the general retirement security of older Americans and their families. GAO analyzed data from two nationally representative surveys–the SCF (1989 through 2016 data) and the HRS (1992 through 2016 longitudinal data)–and nationally representative administrative data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's CCP (2003 through 2019). These datasets were the most recent available at the time of GAO's analyses. GAO also reviewed studies and interviewed experts that GAO identified from these studies to further analyze the relationship between debt and retirement security. For more information, contact Kris Nguyen, (202) 512-7215 or NguyenTT@gao.gov.
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Agile software development is well suited for programs where the end goal is known, but specific details about their implementation may be refined along the way. Agile is implemented in different ways. For example, Scrum is a framework focused on teams, Scaled Agile Framework focuses on scaling Agile to larger groups, and DevOps extends the Agile principle of collaboration and unites the development and operation teams. Scrum, one of the most common Agile frameworks, organizes teams using defined roles, such as the product owner, who represents the customer, prioritizes work, and accepts completed software. In Scrum, development is broken down into timed iterations called sprints, where teams commit to complete specific requirements within a defined time frame. During a sprint, teams meet for daily stand-up meetings. At the end of a sprint, teams present the completed work to the product owner for acceptance. At a retrospective meeting following each sprint, team members discuss lessons learned and any changes needed to improve the process. Sprints allow for distinct, consistent, and measurable progress of prioritized software features. How mature is it? Organizations have used versions of incremental software development since the 1950s, with various groups creating Agile frameworks in the 1990s, including Scrum in 1995. In 2001, a group of software developers created the Agile Manifesto, which documents the guiding principles of Agile. Following this, Agile practitioners introduced new frameworks, such as Kanban, which optimizes work output by visualizing its flow. The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), enacted in 2014, includes a provision for the Office of Management and Budget to require the Chief Information Officers of covered agencies to certify that IT investments are adequately implementing incremental development. This development approach delivers capabilities more rapidly by dividing an investment into smaller parts. As a result, more agencies are now adopting an incremental, Agile, approach to software development. For example, in 2016, the Department of Homeland Security announced five Agile pilot programs. In 2020, at least 22 Department of Defense major defense acquisition programs reported using Agile development methods.  As the federal government continues to adopt Agile, effective oversight of these programs will be increasingly crucial. Our GAO Agile Assessment Guide, released in 2020, takes a closer look at the following categories of best practices: Agile adoption. This area focuses on team dynamics, program operations, and organization environments. One best practice for teams is to have repeatable processes in place such as continuous integration, which automates parts of development and testing. At the program operations level, staff should be appropriately trained in Agile methods. And at an organizational level, a best practice is to create a culture that supports Agile methods. Requirements development and management. Requirements—sometimes called user stories—are important in making sure the final product will function as intended. Best practices in this area include eliciting and prioritizing requirements and ensuring work meets those requirements. Acquisition strategy. Contractors may have a role in an Agile program in government. However, long timelines to award contracts and costly changes are major hurdles to executing Agile programs. One way to clear these hurdles is for organizations to create an integrated team with personnel from contracting, the program office, and software development. Clearly identifying team roles will alleviate bottlenecks in the development process. Figure 2. Different roles come together to make an Agile software development team. Program monitoring and control. Many Agile documents may be used to generate reliable cost and schedule estimates throughout a program’s life-cycle. Metrics. It is critical that metrics align with and prioritize organization-wide goals and objectives while simultaneously meeting customer needs. Such metrics in Agile include the number of features delivered to customers, the number of defects, and overall customer satisfaction.  Opportunities Flexibility. An Agile approach provides flexibility when customers’ needs change and as technology rapidly evolves. Risk reduction. Measuring progress during frequent iterations can reduce technical and programmatic risk. For example, routine retrospectives allow the team to reflect upon and improve the development process for the next iteration. Quicker deliveries. Through incremental releases, agencies can rapidly determine if newly produced software is meeting their needs. With Agile, these deliveries are typically within months, instead of alternative development methods, which can take years. Challenges GAO has previously reported on challenges the federal government faces in applying Agile methods; for the full report see GAO-12-681. Lack of organizational commitment. For example, organizations need to create a dedicated Agile team, which is a challenge when there is an insufficient number of staff, or when staff have several simultaneous duties. Resources needed to transition to Agile. An organization transitioning to Agile may need to invest in new tools, practices, and processes, which can be expensive and time consuming. Mistrust in iterative solutions. Customers who typically see a solution as a whole may be disappointed by the delivery of a small piece of functionality. Misaligned agency practices. Some agency practices, such as procurement, compliance reviews, federal reporting, and status tracking are not designed to support Agile software development. Policy and Context Questions In what ways can Agile help the federal government improve the management of IT acquisitions and operations, an area GAO has identified as high risk for the federal government? How can policymakers implement clear guidance about the use of Agile software development, such as reporting metrics, to better support Agile methods? How might resources need to shift to accommodate the adoption of Agile in federal agencies? What risks could those shifts pose? What updates to agency practices are worth pursuing to support Agile software development? For more information, contact Tim Persons at (202) 512-6888 or personst@gao.gov.
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  • Employee Benefits Security Administration: Enforcement Efforts to Protect Participants’ Rights in Employer-Sponsored Retirement and Health Benefit Plans
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Labor's (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration's (EBSA) enforcement focuses on encouraging retirement and health plans to comply with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, and restoring benefits that were improperly withheld from plan participants. To identify violations, EBSA investigates benefit plans and their service providers. Over two-thirds of investigation leads are identified by EBSA staff. EBSA prioritizes investigating cases that may result in large recoveries or affect many participants, such as restored retirement plan contributions or payment for incorrectly denied medical claims. When agreement cannot be reached, investigators can refer civil cases to DOL's Office of the Solicitor for civil litigation. Criminal cases are referred to Department of Justice. In fiscal year 2020, almost 84 percent of investigations were civil and more than 16 percent were criminal, resulting in over $3 billion in payments to participants and plans. EBSA uses a range of strategies to improve its investigative processes and seeks to ensure enforcement quality through training and oversight. For example, EBSA makes efforts to target investigations for greater impact, such as a 2013 change to prioritize cases with the potential to affect many participants and recover significant assets. As EBSA pursued more complex and technical investigations, the number of closed cases decreased, while monetary recoveries increased (see figure). To ensure investigation quality, EBSA provides training, documents procedures, and reviews open and closed cases to evaluate whether investigation procedures have been followed. Number of EBSA Investigations Closed and Monetary Recoveries, Fiscal Years 2011-2020 The COVID-19 pandemic created a number of immediate and long-term challenges for EBSA and benefit plans. For example, according to stakeholders, plans were initially concerned about how to implement provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act, but those concerns were addressed as the agency issued FAQs and notices. Similarly, EBSA officials reported that court closures temporarily slowed criminal cases, but as virtual hearings increased, litigation resumed. Stakeholders and EBSA officials also described potential long-term challenges, including difficulties locating the many participants who may have left a job due to the pandemic and may be unaware they left behind retirement funds. Why GAO Did This Study Millions of Americans rely on employer benefits for their health care and future financial security. Private sector retirement plans are a key source of income for many retirees and employer-sponsored group health plans cover over one-half of all Americans. Consequently, effective oversight and enforcement are critically important to ensure the integrity of the private employee benefit system, especially in light of the economic and health effects of COVID-19 on American workers and their families. EBSA is charged with protecting the rights of participants in employer-sponsored benefit plans. As of fiscal year 2020, this included about 154 million participants in 722,000 retirement plans and 2.5 million health plans with combined assets of over $10.7 trillion. This report examines (1) how EBSA manages its enforcement process, (2) EBSA's strategies to improve investigative processes and ensure enforcement quality, and (3) the immediate and long-term challenges of COVID-19 for EBSA and private sector retirement and health plans. GAO analyzed EBSA data and documents; and federal laws, regulations, and guidance, including the CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. GAO interviewed officials from EBSA's national office and three regional offices, selected for variation in investigations, and locations as well as stakeholders from nine organizations knowledgeable about benefits compliance requirements, the employer-sponsored benefit industry, and participants' benefit plan experiences. For more information, contact Tranchau (Kris) T. Nguyen at (202) 512-7215 or nguyentt@gao.gov.
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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    In Crime News
    A U.S. accountant was sentenced in the Southern District of New York to 39 months in prison for wire fraud, tax fraud, money laundering, aggravated identity theft, and other charges, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt and Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss of the Southern District of New York.
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  • Justice Department Alleges Conditions at Massachusetts Department of Corrections Violate the Constitution
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts today concluded an investigation into conditions at the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MDOC).
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