Steinberg Event


  • Frederick Kempe, President and CEO, Atlantic Council
  • James Steinberg, Deputy Secretary of State

March 15, 2010

FREDERICK KEMPE:  Welcome to you all.  I’m Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council.  I want to welcome, first and foremost, Jim Steinberg, the principal deputy secretary to Secretary Clinton, to the Atlantic Council this evening to deliver an important message on the Obama administration’s foreign policy priorities as part of our prestigious national security series.  It’s great that Jim has taken the time to be here. 

We started a little bit later than was scheduled originally.  I hope you – many of you got the e-mail earlier today.  As important as the Atlantic Council is, I found it still comes second on the list to the White House.  The council’s international security program created this series in 2009 to serve as a platform for senior leaders in the administration and Congress to deliver important remarks on critical topics in U.S. foreign and national security policy, to go behind the headlines, to go behind the sound bites and give us something a little bit deeper about what’s really going on and what it means. 

The current U.S. national security adviser and our former Atlantic Council chairman, Gen. Jim Jones, launched this series in May, 2009, with an important address on the Obama administration’s approach to national security policy.  Sen. Richard Lugar was the first congressional leader to participate in the series in September, 2009.  And in that context, it’s a particular pleasure to feature Deputy Secretary Steinberg in this series. 

His remarks today at the Atlantic Council could not come at a more opportune time.  First, your appearance here comes on the heels of Secretary Clinton’s own remarks before the Atlantic Council just three weeks ago, where she outlined the Obama administration’s vision for NATO in a rapidly changing world.  It will be a pleasure to hear you, Jim, follow on her remarks by discussing U.S. foreign policy goals and priorities in a somewhat broader context. 

Second, we are privileged to have in the audience today 24 young Turkish and American leaders who are here as part of a State Department-funded exchange program which the Atlantic Council is leading in cooperation with the Istanbul Policy Center at Sabancı University.  This program seeks to reinvigorate the crucial U.S.-Turkey bilateral relationship by building a community of influence of young professionals from the two countries. 

I would like to welcome them all to the Atlantic Council and thank them for being with us and taking part in this important program.  And also thanks to the State Department for supporting this initiative, as well as vice president Fran Burwell and David Kirk for organizing this effort. 

We’re also fortunate in our timing because Deputy Secretary Steinberg just returned from an important trip to Asia – I see a very large number of Asian journalists in the audience, so I think there are many questions about that – where he conducted meetings with senior Chinese officials about the increasingly important U.S.-China relationship.  We’re working on a strategic roadmap project here co-chaired by Gen. Brent Scowcroft and former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.  And he also, of course, discussed the state of our important alliance with our Japanese allies in Tokyo.  North Korea and Iran were, of course, high on the agenda. 

In that context, of course, you’ve been credited with coining the phrase, “strategic reassurance.”  We NATO watchers have been listening to that phrase for a long time, but strategic reassurance to describe the U.S.-China relations, suggestive perhaps of the idea that the United States should reassure China about welcoming its rise, while China would reassure the United States and others that this rise would not conflict with their interests. 

Deputy Secretary Steinberg has been active in shaping and crafting U.S. foreign policy since taking office in January.  With his rich intellect and creative mind, he’s become a lynchpin of policy development both within the department and within the interagency.  But he’s also played a critical role in the world as our number two diplomat, traveling this year already to Asia, Israel, the Caucasus, Munich Security Conference, Colombia, Peru and I’ve probably left out something there as well. 

I know him from a different period of time, even before he served at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs for three years as dean.  Deputy Secretary Steinberg has a long tenure of government service, including holding the positions deputy national security adviser and director of policy planning during the Clinton administration. 

We’re honoring President Bill Clinton on April 28th as our – with our Distinguished International Leadership Award, and it has much to do with much of the work that you were involved in at the time in the Balkans, to do with NATO enlargement and also Northern Ireland and others. 

So it’s a particularly great pleasure, Jim, to have you hear today to offer your remarks.  Before turning over to you, I just want to thank BAE Systems and Atlantic Council board director, Gen. Zinni, for their support of this speaker series.  Jim, the floor is yours.  (Applause.)

JAMES STEINBERG:  Well, thank you, Fred, for that terrific introduction.  And it’s been a great friendship.  And I think it’s a great achievement that the Atlantic Council has Fred here and to provide the kind of leadership that he has.  The evolution of the Atlantic Council over the last couple of decades since I beginning to work with it has been truly impressive. 

It’s always been a pillar of the traditional trans-Atlantic issues, but as you’ve expanded the agenda and the reach of the organization, the impact has grown and the contribution that you make to U.S. foreign policy has grown.  And both to the board and to you, I congratulate you and really grateful for the opportunity to be here. 

I’m also delighted that the Turkish fellows are here.  I have to say, when I heard about your being here, I thought, great, I’m going to get a chance to give a speech about Turkey.  But like all good deputy secretaries, which are the assistant secretaries, and discovered that Assistant Secretary Gordon had already agreed to give the Sabancı lecture at Brookings.  And as an alumni of Brookings and also taking my orders from Assistant Secretary Gordon, he said, you can’t preempt me, I’m giving the Turkey speech.  And so I said, okay, whatever you say, Phil, that will go for me. 

So I’d be happy to talk in the Q&A about Turkey.  It’s a very important relationship and I think the fact that you brought these fellows here is really very timely.  It’s a very important relationship that needs tending and I know having the fellows will make a big difference in that respect. 

You mentioned the secretary talked about NATO, so I’m obviously not going to talk about that as well.  She, I think, gave a very important set of remarks about the importance that we continue to attach to trans-Atlantic relations and to the critical institution of NATO.  And I’m very mindful, with Damon here, about the importance of that as well. 

So I want to reflect a little bit more broadly on the administration’s agenda, both looking back a little and looking forward.  And then we’ll have plenty of time for Q&A to address some of the specific issues of concern to you all.  It’s a good time to do a little bit of stock-taking.  We’ve just passed, by about six weeks, the one-year mark of our administration.  And so while, as a former professor I’ve learned from my students never give grades if you can help it, I do want to reflect a little bit on what’s gone so far and how we think about the way forward. 

And it also won’t surprise you, as a coauthor of a book about transitions, I want to reflect a little bit about the challenge of transitions and how that’s played out in practice for us over the last year and what lessons that we take forward from there.  In the book that Kirk Campbell and I wrote just before coming back into government, we had identified three different kinds of challenges that a new administration faces during the critical periods of transition.  We called them “legacy issues,” “the affirmative agenda” and “surprises.”  And so I want to reflect a little bit on each of those in order.

Legacy issues are enormously important because they define what’s on your plate when you arrive.  They’re the inbox, the must-do list of things that you have to attend to.  And they are also often the greatest sources of challenge because you don’t have the opportunity to sort of sit back and wait a good time to handle them.  They’re there on day one and you have to be ready on day one to deal with them.

They also pose particular challenges because they tend to be the issues that are most heavily debated and most controversial during the campaigns that lead up to a new presidency.  And so there’s a lot of expectation coming in as to what a new administration will do different compared with its predecessor.  And there’s a long history of administrations coming in determined to do about 180 degrees different from its predecessor.  And there are many good reasons why that should be the case.  There’s an opportunity to reflect and to think about alternative courses of action. 

But we also make clear in the book that it’s important to look before you leap.  And no matter how clear you are about a new policy direction as you take office, you can never know the facts and the reality as you inherit it as well as the outgoing administration or as you will come to know it once you take office.  And while you can take generic stands during a campaign, you have to deal with the facts as they are when you become president. 

And I think one of the great strengths of our first year in office under the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Clinton is a real understanding of the need to absorb the – what you Europeans would call “acquis” – and to understand the real – the reality that you’re dealing with you apply the new policy template to your actions. 

And I think there was no clearer example of that than in our handling of the situation in Iraq.  Clearly this was an important motivation to the president.  It was one of the top issues during the campaign.  And his firm conviction that the time had come to end the U.S. combat involvement, the military involvement in Iraq and to turn the page to a new chapter of a new kind of relationship with Iraq.  And this was much discussed during the campaign as you all recall.  And the president came into office deeply committed to that. 

But he also said throughout the campaign that the actual implementation of that policy would depend on the facts on the ground and that he would take seriously the advice of his commanders as he moved forward.  And during the transition and in the early weeks of the campaign, that was a major focus of our effort, is to try to understand as thoroughly as possible the situation in Iraq and how to apply the broad policy framework enunciated in the campaign to the reality that we found in Iraq. 

And as a result of that review, the president made some adjustments in the specific timetable and some of the characteristics of how we were going to implement the commitment to end our military involvement in Iraq, while sustaining the broad commitment to ending that military role and to respecting the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated with the Iraqis. 

As a result of that, I think the president was able to be in the strong position both to demonstrate that he maintained faith with the commitments he made during the campaign, but also was not kind of putting ideological blinders on our overall approach and was able to engage and gain the confidence of the Iraqis and our U.S. forces there to develop a strategy which is now playing out in Iraq itself. 

And while nobody has any illusions that solutions are easy come by in Iraq or that we are going to have a period where there is no conflict or no divisions, I think what we’re seeing is a path forward that promises truly a new day and a new set of opportunities in our engagement in Iraq.  These elections that have taken place just a little over a week ago are a remarkable time in Iraq’s history. 

Second important election that demonstrates that the idea of making political choices at the ballot box is beginning to take hold.  And we hope to see in the coming weeks as the Iraqis go through this very difficult period of government formation that there’s a continuation of this process of engagement and dialogue and trying to find common ground that will provide a stable future for Iraq going forward. 

As I say, there are no guarantees and we don’t underestimate the challenges going forward, but I think we do see a path forward that offers an opportunity not only of a more peaceful and prosperous future for the Iraqi people, but a new kind of engagement with the United States on the basis of an equal partnership and of respect with a key country in the Middle East that can have a profound impact on stability in the region as a whole.

I could give a similar account with respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Again, as you well know and it was very visible, when we took office, the president made clear that he wanted a comprehensive look at the overall approach that we were bringing to the conflict in Afghanistan, as well as our relationships with Pakistan.  He had identified this in the campaign as the kind of the central front in dealing with al-Qaida. 

And as we undertook a comprehensive review during the first two week – two months of the administration, that basic perspective guided our approach.  But we also recognized that we needed to adapt it to the realities as it was found.  And in March of last year, the president enunciated his path on the way forward. 

And we have continued to refine that to our current posture, which retains the basic strategic objectives, which is to deny al-Qaida and its allies the sanctuary and the base from which to attack the United States and its allies and to create the conditions over the long term to make sure that, that threat doesn’t emerge and adapted that approach to trying to develop a new kind of relationship both with the government in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

And I think we’re going to see over the coming days as this strategic dialogue moves forward with Pakistan how that relationship has changed and the fact that we have come to a broader strategic framework within which we engage with Pakistan to try to deal with some of the long-term challenges to make sure that the tactical fight against al-Qaida also achieves our broader strategic objectives.  And again, this was a clear case of taking the broad principles outlined during the campaign but making sure that they were adapted to the facts on the ground.

Well, that’s the first basket – the legacy issues.  The second is the affirmative agenda.  This is the part you get excited about, the problems you want to come into office to deal with as opposed to the ones that you have to deal with.  It’s the kind of thing that motivates our president and the secretary to feel that they can make a difference, that they can leave a stamp that reflects their broad strategic priorities. 

And this is critical because, I think, both for the American people and the international community, there is a desire, in a sense, to understand what the president and the secretary see as the true long-term priorities of the United States and what their program is to try to achieve it.  But the challenge that we talked about in our book was that precisely because it is what you – what motivated you to run for office, what you believe had an impact on why you were elected to this office, there’s a tendency to try to do it all at once – the 100-day syndrome, to get this all out there and accomplish as much as you can in the afterglow of the election while the mandate is fresh. 

But as a former colleague of mine at Brookings, Paul Light, once said, you have to deal with two realities when you’re taking office.  There’s the curve of influence, which is at its height right after you’re elected and you have the new mandate, which tends to decline over time, and there’s the curve of effectiveness, which starts rather low as you’re putting together a new administration and trying to populate all of the offices and get your feet on the ground which tends to grow over time. 

And the challenge is to find that sweet spot where the two intersect and to try to develop your own strategy in a way that you can have – get the best of both worlds.  Where you can still have the influence of a fresh, new start, but have the capacity to move it forward.  And so the president and the secretary gave us a clear mandate, which is to try to both sequence and prioritize our efforts on the key affirmative items, the things that are characteristic of our new administration and to try to do this in an orderly way that allowed us to do the work we needed to do and to be effective and compelling as we developed the program. 

And I want to focus on three elements of the affirmative agenda.  The first, which I think in some ways was the overarching message of the president’s campaign and the message that he saw his election sending, was the need to show a new approach to the world about the United States was going to interact with the world – one of understanding the values of respecting the rule of law, of understanding the need to be hearing as well as telling the world what the U.S. policy is and to try to find a new partnership that found win-win solutions and an expected notion of national interest that included the concerns and perspectives of others. 

And the first and most significant act of the presidency was one that happened on the first day of the presidency, which is the president’s decision to announce his intention to close Guantanamo and to end the practice of torture.  These were very powerful statements, things that a president was in a position to do early on in his presidency and wanted to send a very strong signal to the world about a different approach that we bring to international relations. 

But it was also perhaps less well noticed – although in this audience better noticed – was that thereafter we had a series of trips and engagement with key partners, one of which was at Munich for the first security conference after the election in which Vice President Biden, reflecting the first time a vice president had gone to Munich security conference, announced that part of his reason for being there was to come to listen and to consult with allies and to hear their concerns and perspectives – a view that was carried out on the president’s own first trip to Europe. 

And this reflected a view that we needed to understand better and to try to find ways to develop strategies that took into account the views and perspectives of key partners as we developed our own strategy.  I know that there were some who were critical for the president somehow that because we weren’t telling people what the answer was, that somehow that was a failure of U.S. leadership. 

But I think the president and the secretary understood well that the true mark of leadership is being able to work with and consult with and take seriously the views of key partners, that you’re only going to lead if there are people who are going to come with you.  And that commitment to working together to try to find common path with key allies and partners I think has been a hallmark. 

And it has served us well in managing the economic crisis that the president inherited – one of the other elements of the legacy – but also in charting a path forward on many key political, economic and security issues.  So that was the first element: a new approach to how we engage with the world.

The second element was a very strong commitment by the president and secretary during the campaign and as they took office to a vigorous nonproliferation agenda.  This is something the president has identified as one of his key priorities for his presidency out of a deep conviction that the danger posed by nuclear weapons and particular the danger that they should fall into the hands of terrorists is as serious a threat as any that the United States faces and that we had to have a bold and comprehensive approach to dealing with the challenge of nonproliferation. 

And as I think this audience knows well and during his visit to Europe, when he went to Prague, the president laid out a bold agenda that addressed all the dimensions of the nonproliferation  requirements, including a commitment on the part of the United States to work towards a world and to take the steps in the interim that showed a real commitment of the United States to reduce our own nuclear arsenal and to work with the Russians and others to create a world in which we meet out commitments under the NPT to move towards disarmament: 

A commitment to strengthen the nonproliferation regime itself as we move towards the NPT review conference in just a few months time.  A renewed effort on the global stage to marshal all of the international community to deal with the danger that nuclear materials and technology night fall into dangerous hands – something that’s going to be featured in the nuclear security summit in just a few weeks here in Washington.  And a renewed commitment to deal with two of the most pressing, specific nonproliferation challenges – that of North Korea and Iran. 

And I think, again, we can talk about this in the Q&A if you want, but there’s no question that in the near-term the challenge of dealing with Iranian nuclear programs is one of the most serious challenges that we face.  The president came into office with a commitment to pursue engagement with the Iranian leadership to offer an opportunity for a new kind of dialogue in which we asked Iran to address our concerns about their nuclear program and some of their other dangerous activities, such as their support for terrorist organizations, but indicated that he was prepared to have a far-ranging engagement with the Iranians. 

And we regret, despite some back-and-forth over the least 14 months that the Iranians, thus far, have not taken up that offer.  We had an opportunity the agreements that were tentatively reached last October to try to build some confidence on both sides towards a solution on the nuclear question.  But unfortunately, the Iranians have backtracked from that commitment. 

And today, we find the need to present them with a clear choice.  The diplomatic option remains on the table but it’s clear that unless the Iranians see that they have to face a clear choice and that there are consequences for failure to engage and for meaningfully to address the international community’s concerns on the nuclear program, that there will be consequences. 

So that comprehensive agenda, in a very systematic way, is beginning to play out.  We are, we hope, in the final stages of discussions with the Russians towards a START agreement, which will send a very strong signal by both countries of our commitment to try to reduce the role and numbers of nuclear weapons in our strategy.

As I said, the nuclear security summit, the NPT review conference, and in fairly short order, the president and secretary of defense will announce our new nuclear posture review.  And I think this is really a hallmark of trying to do, on the one hand, an ambitious, but on the other hand, a thoughtful approach to laying out strong, affirmative agendas.

The final item I just want to highlight is climate change – again, a critical priority for this president, his secretary and one of the great challenges of our time.  The consequences are obviously enormous for the economy, political stability, for security and for the well-being of the people of this planet.

The president is deeply committed to move forward on this agenda and that the United States should play a leadership role in addressing these questions and both to our domestic efforts through the stimulus bill where we earmarked tens of billions of dollars towards green jobs and technology, but also through efforts on the international stage, including the recently completed Copenhagen summit, to try to marshal international efforts to address this common challenge.  It’s a long-term project that has to take place on both the national, bilateral and multilateral level, but it is a sustained commitment that we are going to pursue.

The final issue – the final basket of issues that we identified in the book are the issues of surprises:  the things that you don’t anticipate having to deal with in the early going of your presidency but the things that often prove the undoing of presidencies and have a lasting mark.  They’re the kinds of things that are hardest to prepare for but they’re the things that really do test your mettle.

And the two I want to specifically talk about here are the economic crisis – obviously, this is something that began to unfold even in the later stages of the campaign.  But I think the president and his economic advisors would be the first to tell you that the magnitude of the challenge did not become at all clear until we really began to take the reins of government and recognize the risks to the global economic system.

Now, I think this is a case where the international community as a whole – but with strong American leadership – has done quite a remarkable job, if you look back to where we were 14 months ago and the dangers of a true economic collapse that loomed in front of us.  And it really demonstrated the importance of being able to be agile and the ability to adjust policy to meet the needs of an exigency that was unanticipated.

And so we saw with the stimulus package, so we saw with a number of measures that have been adopted by the U.S. government and in coordination with our international partners, a consistent effort to rise to the challenge of the economic crisis and to begin to make the adaptations, whether it’s through the strengthening of the role of the G-20 or looking at elements of financial regulation both at home and abroad to provide not only a short-term answer to this crisis but longer-term solutions for the future. 

And the second surprise was North Korea.  Frankly, I think it was our anticipation that the path that had been embarked on by the previous administration of trying to reinvigorate the Six-Party Talks and to see the implementation of the denuclearization agreement that the 2005 agreement with North Korea provided a sound basis for moving forward.  And we communicated from the beginning of this administration to the North Koreans that we were prepared to continue down that path, and believed that a negotiated approach was the best way to go. 

We saw early on signs that the North Koreans might be preparing to test ballistic missiles.  We made clear to them that it would be an unwelcome move that detracted from the constructive diplomatic engagement that had been undertaken by the previous administration.  But notwithstanding our willingness to move forward on the diplomatic tract, the North Koreans decided to confront the international community and the United States with a ballistic missile launch in the first part of our administration, and followed that with a nuclear test in May of last year. 

Now, one of the things that we’ve learned is the virtue of some surprises is they look an awful lot like old surprises.  And this playbook was a familiar one from the North Koreans of challenging a new administration coming into office.  And I think in this case, we were reasonably well-prepared and we were successful in marshaling the international community, first with a presidential statement at the U.N. Security Council in April of last year in response to the ballistic missile test, and second, with a new U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874, following the nuclear test in May.

It demonstrated to the North Koreans that, rather than by provoking us, that the United States or others would offer more inducements for them to return to promises that they’d already made – that this time we’d make clear that there would be no payments simply to come back to talking or to restore the not-entirely-status-quo-ante, but rather that the international community was united in making clear that we needed to pursue a different course this time, and that if North Korea wanted to have a more constructive engagement with the United States and its other partners, it needed to recommit itself to the Six-Party Talks, to the 2005 joint statement and to begin to actively move to implement its obligations to denuclearize. 

We believe that that offers a promising path forward.  As most of you in this audience know, we continue to discuss both with the North Koreans and our six-party partners how to implement that.  But the message is clear:  Come back to the Six-Party Talks.  There is a framework from which we can discuss the full range of issues.  That’s always been on the table since the 2005 statement. 

And I think that it is clear that we are prepared to engage, as are the other six parties, on a range of issues but only in the context of the Six-Party Talks and only in the context of North Korea demonstrating meaningfully that it takes seriously its previous commitments to pursue denuclearization.  So that gives you an overview.  It’s a broad agenda.  There’s no question that the challenges in this post-post-Cold War world requires an ability to deal with a full range of issues to multitask across the different challenges that we face. 

We face important opportunities as we begin to think about a world of the 21st century in which new and emerging powers are playing an influential role in the scene, to adapt our international institutions, to recognize the increasingly important role played by India and China, Brazil, Turkey and others, and to find new strategies to develop global cooperation to deal with the challenges of the 21st century, which are challenges that no single country acting alone, even the most powerful, can deal with by itself. 

This is a theme that the secretary outlined in her speech last year at the Council of Foreign Relations and it provides a broad framework through which all of our work is pursued.  So I hope this gives you a little better feel about the priorities and our strategy going forward.  And I look forward to your thoughts, questions and comments.  (Applause.)

MR. KEMPE:  Jim, thank you for that.  That was terrific and really gave us a conceptual sense of how you’re looking at the things coming at you.  Clearly, this construct – legacy issues, affirmative agenda and surprises – having read the book, I’m familiar with it, but I’m going to ask you a couple of questions before going to the audience.

Some of these issues fall into more than one category.  And let me start perhaps with Iran.  You’ve just come back from China and Japan and, of course, it was high on the agenda of both of those trips, and trying to secure the buy-in of China to craft effective sanctions.  So the simple question is, have you seen any sign of movement there?  But let me actually phrase it also in a different way. 

In some ways, Iran is both a legacy issue and also an affirmative agenda issue, as under the nonproliferation side of things.  And as you pick this up, what is the most effective way to get Iran to move?  And then, of course, you came up with the intriguing comment that you’re still following diplomatic initiatives, but if they don’t work, there will be consequences.

And I know you’re not going to list out for us here at this meeting all the consequences you’re talking about, but I suppose the question one asks around town and elsewhere is, what possibly would prompt Iran to give up its course when it’s unclear that sanctions will be signed on by enough people to be truly effective?  And in the end, must there be a belief on their side that there are military consequences, or they wouldn’t have any incentive to move?  And I wonder if you can address as much of that as you can.

MR. STEINBERG:  It’s a big question, Fred.  Let me just give a little context.  You know, as I mentioned, President Obama came to office with a view that our efforts to date – that is, until he was elected – had obviously not achieved the goals that we sought.  And during the campaign, he talked about his willingness to engage with Iran to address the questions.

He understood very well that there’s a long legacy of a complex relationship between the United States and Iran, and a willingness to begin to try to address those questions but also clarity that in order for that to be productive, the Iranians had to be prepared to address our concerns, beginning with the nuclear question, but also some of the other issues, including their support for Hezbollah and Hamas, their commitment against Israel and the like.

The president believed that this kind of engagement strategy was desirable for two reinforcing reasons.  One, because it did offer the opportunity that there might be a diplomatic solution; that the Iranians might be prepared to come to the table and try to find a way forward.  But second, that if we were not successful, it would strengthen our hand in mobilizing the international community in response to their unwillingness to move forward. 

And I think that strategy has, up till now, proved to be a correct one in the sense that we have demonstrated that we’re not seeking a confrontation for confrontation’s sake with Iran, that we genuinely would like a solution, that we understand that there are a range of issues that need to be addressed, and we’ve made clear that we’re prepared to do that.  The Iranians, by their failure to take this up, I believe, have isolated themselves much more deeply than had this been simply us coming in and demanding forcefully that they give up their nuclear program. 

We saw this very dramatically last November at the board of governors meeting at the IAEA when there was a very strong signal of clear disapproval of the Iranian program, now reinforced by the IAEA’s director-general’s report about Iranian activities.  And at the board of governors, we had – it wasn’t unanimous but we had all of the permanent five members of the Security Council onboard and making clear that they considered Iran’s action to be in violation of their obligations under the NPT. 

We’re now in the process of discussion with our partners what we are prepared to do in terms of sanctions.  Nobody believes that’s the first, best choice, but I think it’s clear that unless Iran understands that there are consequences, then they are much less likely to take up the offer of engaging the diplomacy.  We’ve shown that in the absence of that, they don’t seem to be prepared to move forward. 

Some of our partners, especially China, believe very strongly that a diplomatic approach would be preferable.  We don’t disagree with that, but I think we have made clear to China that we think that the record today shows that unless something is presented differently to the Iranians, they are unlikely to take up the very forward-leaning offer that we proposed during the October discussions of the P-5-plus-1.  These are ongoing conversations with the Chinese, with the Russians and others.  We’ll see how it comes out. 

I believe at the end of the day, that if the Iranians don’t show that they’re willing to come into compliance with the concerns of the IAEA and the international community, that we will be able to build a broad consensus to take some kind of action.  But that’s a work in progress.  And I am convinced that the issue here is partially the specific sanctions and the specific measures that we would take, but also the clarity to the Iranians that they’re isolating themselves.  And I think that history shows that this is of concern to Iran; that they are trying very hard to create diplomatic space to try to find some validation for their programs. 

The more that that they see themselves isolated by the actions, whether it’s through the IAEA, through the Security Council or elsewhere, I think the more they will recognize the cost to them in terms of their own interest of moving forward with this program.  And our hope is that will change their calculation.  One cannot know that in advance but I think pursuing that path offers us the best opportunity to achieve a result that we’re all trying to get to.

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you, Jim.  The question on the Mideast – the Mideast is obviously in the news, Vice President Biden just having finished his trip.   And there was a message of partnership and solidarity with Israel, but then of course, complicated by the Israeli government’s announcement of a construction of new settlements.  My question is really in two parts:  First of all, how much does this complicate things?  What do you do about it? 

But the second part, and perhaps more important in the context that we talk about in this series, is you were part of the Clinton administration.  There are lessons from then.  There are some who believe the only way to get from here to there in the Mideast process is deep engagement of the U.S. with all of its political capital.  Are we seeing, in Vice President Biden’s trip and the action within the administration, a decision that that’s the direction the U.S. has now decided to go?  And do you agree that that’s necessary for this?  And if so, what’s next?

MR. STEINBERG:  I think – on the answer to your narrower and second question, the answer is, I think that was clear from day one.  One of the earliest decisions that the president and the secretary made was to appoint George Mitchell as the special envoy for the Middle East.  This happened roughly in the first week of the administration and it reflected, frankly, a different view than that at some points in the previous administration that suggested that you couldn’t want this more than the parties themselves. 

I think one of the lessons that those of us who’d been dealing with this issue for some time believed is that, ultimately, the parties have to reach an agreement, but that on some issues, deep U.S. engagement is critical to help the parties get to the place where they can reach agreements which are in their own self-interest. 

And so we feel like we’ve been involved from day one.  There’s no question that it was hard to get started in the first few months.  There was, after all, no government in Israel for the first couple of months after we took office.  Prime Minister Netanyahu really only consolidated his government in April of last year.  But from the beginning, we tried to help begin the dialogue about some of the ideas that we had about the way forward; and as the government took shape in Israel, in a much more active role.

I think the vice president’s trip should be seen both as a continuation of that strong sense of commitment that the president and the secretary have to engagement here, but also a recognition that despite the difficulties and despite differences that we have with Israel over certain things that are taking place, particularly with respect to settlements, that we have a deep and abiding commitment to Israel’s security; that we pursue these not because we’re uninterested in Israel’s security but precisely because we’re interested in Israel’s security and are convinced –  as the vice president has said, as the president has said, as the secretary has said – that reaching a two-state solution with the Palestinians in the long term is the best path forward to a stable, secure Jewish state of Israel. 

And so we are deeply committed to being engaged and we will continue to be committed to engage.  It’s because we care about Israel, because we hope to support the aspirations of the Palestinians and because it’s in our interest.  So that’s a very core commitment on our part.  And I think that we have worked very hard. 

I can make the most banal statement of all time, which is, making peace in the Middle East is not easy – (laughter) – but you have to keep at it.  And you have to deal with the fact that we have challenges on both sides, that it’s a responsibility of both sides to help create the conditions that make it possible to engage on these difficult issues. 

Even with that, success is not guaranteed, but if both sides don’t do everything they can to create the best environment for these negotiations to succeed, then clearly we’re not going to get there.  And so we have focused very hard to create the conditions that will allow the parties to engage themselves.  We have, as you know, gotten the agreement for the two sides to at least engage in what some people call proximity talks.  And we want to protect that as a way to get into more direct negotiations. 

We think this is critically important, again, for both sides, and it’s critically important in the broader region as we move forward to deal with a lot of other big challenges, like the challenge of terrorism, like the challenge of nuclear weapons or the nuclear program in Iran, and so this is something that would benefit both to take forward, and we will continue to engage in a very vigorous way. 

The president and the secretary have obviously been very clear about when one or the other side take actions that they think are unhelpful but that doesn’t mean that we’re not committed to working with both of them to try to get to the result that I think is in both sides’ interest. 

MR. KEMPE:  Boy, I see a lot of questions.  It being the Atlantic Council, I’m going to raise one other quick one and then I’m going to go.  I want to say that I’m just delighted to see so many members of the Atlantic Council and the board here.  And I also – before we go forward, I just want to tip the hat to Atlantic Council Vice President Damon Wilson, who’s in the international security program, who curates this program, and Jeff Lightfoot, who takes charge of it at the operational level. 

We are the Atlantic Council-Europe.  There’s a lot of frustration that I’m feeling on both sides.  And I don’t know if you are – as well, as getting some of that.  Clearly, there’s no more important relationship to us going forward but the way politics works on both sides, often we don’t get as much done as we want to get done. 

As you look at it – and you’ve written the book on European integration, literally, and its implication for U.S. foreign policy.  As you look at this, does the Lisbon Treaty change anything?  And can you point to anything that you’ve achieved in this relationship, and in a concrete way, or think is nearby that really shows there’s something more going on or improving.  Or you can just look at the other side, which is the climate talks, where we didn’t really work as well together as one might have hope.

MR. STEINBERG:  Well, I do think – I mean, there are – like all quarrels within families, they tend to get magnified.  But I have to say, if you talk to the practitioners – and I obviously spend a lot of time with European counterparts, I think the relationship is pretty good.  And I do spend a lot of time there.  I just was at Munich again for the second time in this administration. 

We’ve been having close communication with some of the new actors since the Lisbon treaty went into effect; with Catherine Ashton; we just had a visit with two key members of the president’s cabinet who are here just the last couple of days.  And I see a lot of very positive signs about the way this is moving forward.

First of all, although there are still challenges, I think we need to see the glass as mostly full in the efforts that we’ve made together to deal with the challenge of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This has been a challenge within the alliance.  There are issues that we need to continue to work forward.  But this is still an alliance effort.  And it is something that has – you know, on both sides of the Atlantic, people have taken very seriously, in the European case, in many cases in the face of very difficult political challenges. 

And I think there’s been a lot of courage on many European leaders to take tough decisions to support this effort, because it is important to NATO and it is important to our common security.  We worked through the issue of European missile defense in the context of the readjustment of our own program, which came up with a solution which was, frankly, a better solution, in terms of our ability to provide protection for Europe, as well as the United States, from the emerging missile threats in ways that brought this much more within the framework of NATO and addressed the concerns of all of our partners.

I personally have been deeply involved, as you know, back in my old stomping grounds in the Balkans.  And I think we’ve seen a really remarkable re-engagement together between the United States and the EU to deal with the problem of the Balkans, and the ability to work together on this.  We’re seeing renewed efforts to strengthen our cooperation on development policy.  And I think that’s something that’s a very big priority for the secretary.

So I see a lot of areas where we are working together extremely effectively.  Climate change has always been a challenge.  The Europeans have a view about how to proceed.  We’ve made very clear that we share their conviction about the importance of addressing this issue, but at the end of the day, we need real results. And we’re not going to get real results unless we find ways to take measures that are effective and comprehensive.  And that’s why we’ve put a lot of emphasis on building a framework that includes emerging economies and developing nations.

Because frankly, we could both, in Europe and the United States, completely eliminate our greenhouse gas emissions and we would not solve the problems unless we bought in the developing countries.  So there may be differences of tactics, but it’s not a difference in commitment.  There may be differences in the past, where there was less vigorous commitment.  But I think Europeans understand that eh president and the secretary of energy and others, you know, are deeply committed to this agenda.  And we need to find ways to work together to deal with this.

And I think we’ve been dealing with a number of questions in terms of making sure that, as we move forward to try to improve our relations with Russia, that we consult closely with our European partners as we deal with the energy.  We’ve just created a new trans-Atlantic energy council, which I’ve been very actively involved, myself, in – but a tremendously important area of common interest.  So you could go on and on, I think and demonstrate a number of issues that really demonstrate the vitality of where we are. 

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you very much.  Lots and lots of questions – I’ll get to as many as I can. 

Q:  Mr. Secretary, John Zang (sp) with CPI TV of Taiwan.  How did your recent visit to Beijing go?  How did your discussion with Chinese leaders go, in terms of resolving the differences with regards to the president’s meeting with the Dalai Lama and Taiwan arms sales?  Because the remarks from Beijing by Chinese leaders over the last few days still sound bitter, accusing the U.S. of hurting China’s core interests.  Are we going to see U.S.-China relations getting worse before they manage to get better?  Thank you.

MR. STEINBERG:  I think we had a very productive exchange with a broad range of important officials on the Chinese side.  I think the nature of our relationship, now, is such that we are able to have full exchanges on these issues, that we need to hear each other out, to explore each other’s concerns, but also to understand that, on some issues, we do have differences of views.

And I take – on the one hand, the Chinese have obviously expressed their concerns, but we also shared with them what our thinking and our own conviction that the decisions that the president and the secretary have taken are designed to foster what we believe is a common objective, which is peace and security in East Asia and an environment for dialogue in which issues like the religious and cultural interests of the Tibetan people can be addressed, hopefully through direct engagement with the Chinese government.

So you know, none of us expect one set of conversations to be the answer to longstanding challenges, but I think there is a commitment on both sides to engage and to discuss, and that’s what diplomacy is all about.

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you.  Please, right here.

Q:  Jill Schuker.  I’m on the board of the Atlantic Council and the OECD.  I was going to ask you something about China, Jim, but that question’s been raised.  But let me ask you about the G-20.  And I’m interested in how you see the evolution of the G-20 – where the administration would like to go, both in terms of structure, framework, the relationships that, clearly, are an essential part of an organization that has definitionally needed to come about, as opposed to a G-8 or something in between.

MR. KEMPE:  And is this going to become the go-to place for global issues, or will we have variable geometries?

MR. STEINBERG:  First of all, we’re going to have variable geometries.  I mean, there is no single configuration or single arrangement that’s the optimum arrangement for any set of issues.  We have regional issues; we have global issues; we have some that are very narrowly functional; some that are more broad-ranging.  And even – with the G-20, you used the word “organization,” and I’m not sure that’s the right word.

It’s a group.  It’s a group of systemically important economies.  And I think we have all agreed that the G-20 is the pre-eminent place for the systemically important economies to address the core economic issues.  That’s the focus of the efforts there.  It’s clearly an evolution of the economic side of the G-7, G-8.  And whether it needs more structure, I think, is something we’ll see as we go forward.

I think right now, it is an evolutionary process.  But the fact that we’re able to get the leaders together, supported by their key officials, allows us to have a, kind of, ongoing consultation on these core economic issues.  Now, everybody recognizes that there’s no bright line between what’s an economic issue and what, you know, goes on to address other issues – where does development fit in?  Where do issues like climate fit in? 

And I think this is an evolutionary process.  And we’re not trying to impose, kind of, a one-time-fits-all architectural solution to this.  There are, as I say, other issues that are best dealt with in a regional context, whether it’s the OECD or the OSCE.  And we are still continuing to find the need for other arrangements to deal with some of the political questions.  So in dealing with the question of Iran’s nuclear program, we have the P5-plus-1.  That’s an effective mechanism to deal with that particular challenge.  We also consult with others, as well.

So I don’t think we should look for either, kind of, one answer to this question or expect that we’ll have a very, kind of, neatly defined org chart that addresses all these concerns.  What we are looking for now is ways to enhance global cooperation to deal with challenges that require collective action.  We saw, at Copenhagen, a very flexible adaptation that led to the Copenhagen agreement, which was short of the full UNFCC, but had a very broad-ranging basis of country that are joining, and an open-ended invitation for others to join.  So that’s one kind of mechanism.

We see, in different contexts – whether it’s dealing with the money laundering problem through the financial action taskforce – a very effective gathering of like-minded countries to try to deal with the problems of the integrity of the financial system.  And I think we will continue to see adaptation that exalts function over form and tries to find the right way to bring together the relevant countries so that all relevant and appropriate perspectives are at the table, but in ways that can effectively address the problems at hand.

MR. KEMPE:  I’m going to take one, two questions here.  And I see the two right there, right from the beginning, and I’m going to get back to you as soon as I can.  And we’ll try and do very quick questions and brief answers and see if we can get a couple more in here.  Please.

Q:  My names Dana Marshall with Dewey and LeBoeuf – (inaudible).  Jim, thank you.  Let me ask you to put your algebra professor hat back on about those curves you mentioned – political power and effectiveness.  If you wanted to put a few more curves on there regarding the views of Congress, leadership of the U.N. Security Council and other curves involving Iran, where do they all meet? 

It’s supposed to be a cute way of asking you, when do you expect this process to, sort of, move forward?  The secretary has spoken of “months,” “soon.”  She’s also said “no timetable.”  But I wonder, this evening, as you look at this over the next months, do you have some action forcing of that or some sense by which you think everything will come together?

MR. KEMPE:  And let me pick up one more.

Q:  Damon Wilson here at the Atlantic Council.  Thank you for your remarks.  You mentioned the importance of Vice President Biden’s early trip to the Munich Security Conference, and that, of course, is where he also announced the Russia “reset” policy.  I understand that President Obama and President Medvedev spoke recently about the progress on START.

I wanted to get your assessment of how you see Russia reset working.  What kind of partner is Russia developing, and particularly as you try to conclude the START negotiations, as you try to reach agreement on Iran?  And as a corollary to that, you recently had a trip to the Caucasus.  This is, of course, an area where President Medvedev has expressed Russia’s interests and privileged interests in the region. 

As you sort of pursue – as the administration pursues the reset and cooperation with Russia, how are you navigating the shoals of working with Tblisi, working with the Ukraine in a way that has caused Russia some angst in the past?

MR. STEINBERG:  Dana, on Iran, I mean, I think that, I mean, the reason the secretary said there’s no timetable is, I think it’s counterproductive to have artificial deadlines.  But at the same time, we recognize that Iran continues to enrich uranium, and that as it continues to do so, the dangers grow.  And in particular, their announcement – we’ll see what the reality is – of their intention to enrich the 20 percent obviously reflects yet another step down that path.

So I think the challenge here is to have an appropriate sense of urgency, which we have, and a recognition that, over time, the problem becomes harder and more dangerous, with a recognition that the nature of this diplomacy takes time.  You know, if you look back over the history of the negotiation of the three previous Security Council resolutions on Iran, they took time.  They took a number of months.

We are trying to impart a sense of urgency to this, but we also recognize that, for some countries, they need to satisfy themselves that the diplomacy really isn’t going anywhere.  And we can’t force them to make that decision any faster than they’re ready, but we can work with them to try to crystallize those sets of choices.  And I think that’s the process that we’re engaged in right now, not just with the P-5-plus-1, but with other countries that have an interest in this issue.  There are other key members of the Security Council, like Turkey and Brazil, which have an interest in some engagement.

And so what we are trying to do is, on the one hand, be respectful of the fact that need to come and satisfy themselves that the Iranians really aren’t responding.  We’re satisfied with that, but we need to bring them along to reach that same conclusion, while making clear to them we cannot wait forever – that we strongly prefer working through the council and multilaterally.  But we have to draw the conclusions if the multilateral mechanisms aren’t working.  So those are the choices that are out there.  Again, no artificial timetable, but also no sense of a leisurely stroll in the park.

On Russia, you know, I think it’s important to understand what the reset is and isn’t – and I know you know this well.  The basic premise of the reset was, we are going to have differences with Russia – sometimes, very fundamental differences.  But what we need to do is be able to manage those differences and not have them make it impossible to cooperate where we have common interests.  And I think our perception was that, for better or for worse, and probably not intentionally, we’d gotten to the point in the relationship where the differences so poisoned the relationship that it was impossible to work together on anything.

And I think in that respect, the reset has worked pretty well, in the sense that we have been able to move forward.  I don’t want to pre-judge that we’ll get a START agreement, but I think there’s a sense that we’re on the right path to get it done.  We have reached agreements with Russia to support transits to Afghanistan, and we’re working, generally, better together to support what is, really, a common interest in dealing with creating stability in Afghanistan.

We are working better together on nonproliferation issues, on North Korea, on Iran.  These are all issues that are in our common interest, and which we ought to be able to pursue, even as we have profound differences with Russia on what they’re doing in Georgia.  And we are unshy about saying it.  Because of unfortunate conflicts that the secretary has had, she hasn’t been able to go to the last two OECD meetings, but I did. 

And we were very clear about this, as were our other European partners, about that fact that we consider the Russians not observing their agreements that they made at the end of that conflict, through the efforts of President Sarkozy, that they are not working constructively in Geneva to try and resolve these things, to build confidence, to try to allow some transparency about what’s going on in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, not meeting their international obligations there.  We have differences with them on that. 

And we’re going to call those out when we have them.  We have some concerns, even, in terms of what’s happening internally, in Russia.  But I think the story here is that we are finding, I think, reasonably good ways to not feel we have to pull in our horns where we disagree, but also to recognize that it’s in both countries interests to work together where we can.

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you, Jim.  You’ve been very patient.  Here and also the woman standing there, and then the gentleman in front of her, please.

Q:  Great, thank you so much.  This is – (inaudible) – a daily newspaper in Turkey.  We would have been very happy to listen to talks about Turkey.  Indeed, Turkey is looking for some strategic reassurance from Washington, nowadays.  It recalled its ambassador on March 4 as immediate retaliation to the passage of a resolution at the House Foreign Affairs Committee concerning Armenian genocide. 

And the Turkish prime minister said publicly that it is looking for that reassurance from Washington so that he can send his ambassador back.  So the simple question is that, will you give that reassurance, which is to give some guarantee to Turkey that the Armenian genocide resolution will not come to a floor vote at the house and that the president is not going to use the G-word this year?  Thank you.

MR. KEMPE:  While you consider that, let me take one more here.  Thank you.

Q:  Yes, thank you.  Hussein Abdul Hussein (sp) with – (inaudible) – newspaper.  It’s been more than a year since engagements started with Syria, and recently, President Assad made sarcastic remarks of Secretary Clinton’s demands that he breaks his alliance with Iran and stop support to Hezbollah and Hamas.  And most recently, Syria expressed a position to the proximity talks.  Do you see any gains from engaging Syria so far?  Thank you very much.

MR. STEINBERG:  Two easy questions.  (Laughter.)  On Turkey, I think there’s no doubt that the president and the secretary have demonstrated unequivocally the importance they attach to the relationship with Turkey, and the value we place on this relationship.  The president went to Turkey in the first months of his presidency. 

The prime minister was here just a few months ago.  And these have been very productive conversations.  They reflect the fact that we value Turkey’s partnership and that we’re clear about the value that Turkey plays as someone that works with us across a broad range of issues.  So I don’t think there can be any question about that.

I think that – I regret, frankly, the decision to withdraw the ambassador.  We have a policy of engagement.  I hope that Turkey has the same policy with the United States.  And I think that, whatever their differences with the Congress on this issue, that it’s important that we engage and that we talk about these areas.  We’ve had tremendous admiration and respect for the prime minister for the efforts on the Turkey-Armenia Protocols. 

We think that was a courageous decision that was in Turkey’s interests, but also provided leadership in the region.  We look forward to working with Turkey on those questions, because we think Turkey can play a very constructive and stabilizing role.  It’s an important partner in NATO.  It’s an important partner in working with us in Iraq, where Turkey continues to play a very constructive and positive force in helping to move that political process forward. 

So we think we have a very strong and constructive engagement with Turkey, and I hope that the Turkish leadership understands the strong importance that we place on this and continues to work forward and work with us to achieve what we think are common objectives.  On Syria, you know, I think one of the lessons we’ve all learned is that there’s a lot of theater out there in international relations.  But at the end of the day, what we’re interested in is positive improvement and constructive results.

We’ve had a number of contacts with the Syrian leadership.  Most recently, Undersecretary Burns was in Damascus and had an important exchange with President Assad.  We’ve made clear that we can see a path forward to more constructive relations that produces benefits, not only for our two countries, but for the region as a whole.  And we’ve also made the clear the kinds of steps that we think Syria needs to pursue to make that possible.

As you also know, we’ve agreed to appoint an ambassador, and I think in a couple of days’ time, Ambassador Ford will be having a hearing.  We hope that he can be confirmed and go to Damascus to continue that agenda.  But clearly, it’s going to take some action on the Syrian side, as well. 

And what we’ll be paying attention to is less the rhetoric and more to the actions that Syria is prepared to take to move forward to deal with the problem of extremism, to deal with the problem of support of dangerous and destabilizing forces in the region, to make sure that the borders are closed to fighters crossing the border into Iraq, and to see whether Syria really wants to be a partner with the United States in bringing about a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East.

MR. KEMPE:  And Jim, we’re down to the last couple of minutes.  And I’m going to throw out a last question – and I realize one could write a book about this question, so – and I realize you have to be brief, just, in the interest of time.  You were deputy national security advisor; you’re a deputy secretary of state.  How is the world different for President Obama than it was for President Clinton, and their administrations, and what does that require, in terms of U.S. foreign policy?  How is it different to execute?

MR. STEINBERG:  I’d make two observations, but you’re right, you could definitely write a book.  And there are many things that look very similar and many things that look very different.  The two observations I would make are, one, going to Jill’s question, that I think we have reached the point where we do have to fundamentally grasp the challenge, about how the international community develops the tools and mechanisms to deal with what we political scientists call the collective action problem. 

That we need new tools and new mechanisms to be effective in dealing with these transnational problems, like climate, like terrorism, like nonproliferation.  Because, because no single actor can solve the problems and because the traditional tools of power don’t get you to where you want to get, we really have to be creative. 

And that requires – it requires leadership by the United States, because as any graduate student of political science knows, the collective action problem requires somebody who’s prepared to act, but it also requires a recognition that you have to expand the way in which you pursue your national interests to bring others in and to make them confident that the way you’re pursuing your national interests is also in support of theirs. 

That’s actually not a new insight.  Obviously, it was the insight that brought about NATO in the first place, and brought about a lot of the institutions that were created at the end of World War II.  But that insight has grown fallow over time, and we’ve lost the sense about what it needs to motivate and engage the international community.  And so we need to relearn those lessons and apply them to a new context, in which the facts of globalization and interdependence are the great challenges of our time. 

Related to that is the fact that we have to restore America’s stature and respect in the world.  That’s something that has changed.  That was not, frankly, a struggle when we were in office.  And we came out of the Cold War in an environment where the United States was seen as a leader who was respected, globally – who had carried, along with our partners, a long and difficult struggle in which our values and our perspectives had been vindicated.  And we could then be seen as a strong leader, respected by others, to meet the challenges going forward.

That was lost, over time. And the struggle to rebuild that – to rebuild confidence in the United States as a leader, and in support of our leadership, is a long-term challenge.  We obviously see this most radically in the Muslim and Islamic world, but it is not the only place where that’s a challenge.  I’ve traveled in Latin America, and frankly, we don’t have the same standing that we had at one time.

And so we have to work very hard – and it’s not a one-day or one-month challenge.  It’s a process of engagement, as I said – the perspective that the president and the secretary brought – to listening, to working with partners, to develop more equal partnerships, to respect the contribution that others can make in dealing with these great challenges that, I think, over the long term, is going to pay a great dividend for us, but is a much greater challenge today, I think, than it was 15 or 20 years ago.

MR. KEMPE:  Harder to get things done today.

MR. STEINBERG:  Harder to get things done.

MR. KEMPE:  Jim, I’m afraid we’ve run out of time.  And I’ve seen so many other questions.  That just shows the interest in having you here and dealing with these issues.  I want to thank you on behalf of the audience and I just want to say one other thing that one doesn’t say often enough, either.  And that’s, thanks for your service to the United States, and also to the world – very much appreciated.  (Applause.)

MR. STEINBERG:  Thank you very much.

Transcript by Federal News Service, Washington, DC

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