MR. MORRELL: Good afternoon. It's been so long since last we met, and I have nothing to open with. So let's get right to questions.
Q Oh, okay. (Laughter, cross talk.)
The Poles announced this morning and talked this morning about an agreement to provide some help for the Polish military, to help modernize the Polish military as part of the missile defense talks. Can you provide any clarity on what types of things we're talking about, any idea where this is going?
MR. MORRELL: My understanding is that it would be premature to characterize it as an agreement. And I think we've talked from this podium before about the notion that we are working with the Poles to allay whatever concerns they have about basing part of the missile defense system within their territory.
They came to us some months ago and expressed a desire to also modernize their air defenses if they were going to take on this additional, what they believe to be, risk by hosting the interceptors. And so we have agreed to conduct talks with them, not only on missile defense but simultaneously about modernizing their air defenses.
So these are two separate and yet related negotiations that are taking place, but not at the agreement point yet.
Q Does the secretary continue to have full confidence in Admiral Fallon? And has anybody spoken to him about collaborating in an article which said pretty bluntly that he had contradicted the White House policy on Iraq?
MR. MORRELL: As I mentioned to a reporter last week, I can tell you only that the secretary has read the article in question and will not be commenting on it.
Q How did he like the article?
MR. MORRELL: He's read the article in question and will not be commenting on it.
Q Did he take any action as a result of reading the article?
MR. MORRELL: I am not aware of any action that has been taken as a result of the article.
Q Well, with all due respect, that almost sounds like a condemnation from the secretary.
MR. MORRELL: Condemnation of what?
Q (Off mike.) Of Fallon's position, because the question was about confidence in Fallon. And so he reads the article and just says, I'm not going to comment about it.
MR. MORRELL: That's his prerogative. His prerogative is to comment on those things he wishes to. And if he chooses not to comment, he's the secretary of Defense.
He's read the piece. I've shared that bit of knowledge with you. He is choosing not to comment on the piece.
Q Okay. So how --
MR. MORRELL: So I'm not going to take any liberties here and comment for him when he has made it clear to me that this is not something that he wishes to wade into.
Q Well, put the article aside. Then the other part of Andrew's question: does the secretary still have confidence, full confidence, in Admiral Fallon?
MR. MORRELL: Admiral Fallon serves at the pleasure of the president. He still enjoys a working -- a good working relationship with the secretary of Defense. I know of no change to their working relationship.
Q So is that a yes, he still has full confidence?
MR. MORRELL: I think you've got to talk with the president, but as far as I know it, he and the secretary continue to enjoy a good working relationship.
Anybody else on this subject? Okay.
Q Well, we could hammer it all afternoon.
MR. MORRELL: You could. And really -- I've said really as much as I'm going to say on that. I don't mean to be a pain. I just think that there is not a desire for us to get into a situation where we are commenting on specific media articles. I mean, if we did that, we'd spend a lot of time going back and forth over things that oftentimes are silly.
Q So it's really a simple question of whether he was confidence or not.
MR. MORRELL: And I think I've answered that. And they continue to enjoy a good working relationship.
Q That's not quite the same thing. That's, you know, we -- (off mike).
MR. MORRELL: Well, they wouldn't enjoy a good working relationship if he didn't have confidence in him.
Q (Inaudible) -- substance. Put the article aside. Is Admiral Fallon essentially the one man standing between peace and war in Iran? I mean, is he like, you know, up there, holding back a --
MR. MORRELL: I thought, from -- based upon the articles that have been written previously, that that was the secretary's role.
No, come on. There's all sorts of -- people like to create caricatures out of people, and their roles and what goes on behind the scenes. I think that the secretary has made clear and I think Admiral Fallon has made clear that the first priority of this administration is to deal with our problems with Iran in a diplomatic fashion. That is our first hope. That is our first effort. However, we have all made clear, time and time again, that nothing, no avenue is off the table.
All right? Yeah, Jennifer.
Q Regarding the Boeing-Airbus deal, there's a lot of politics on the Hill, a lot of finger-pointing. If Boeing decides to contest that decision by the Air Force, what damage will it cause, and is there concern by the secretary that it will cause damage to the procurement of the badly needed air tankers?
MR. MORRELL: I have no indication, at this point, that Boeing will choose to contest or protest the awarding of this contract. Obviously, they have certain recourse that's available to them under the law.
I think there's a time period by which they must do so, and I think the clock is ticking. But I think it's best to ask Boeing what their plans are with regards to protesting this. And if they were to do so -- I don't want to get into a hypothetical up here and what implications that would have for the contract. I mean, my -- I mean, you've heard from the secretary now on this. Heaven knows you've heard from the Air Force ad nauseam on this now.
But we believe this to have been a fair and transparent competition. Airbus won based upon the merits of their proposal. And I think that the taxpayers are being provided with the best value for their dollar and the warfighters are getting the best plane possible.
Q And with regards to the Pentagon IG report on the dirty water that was supplied to troops in Iraq by KBR, what is the secretary's comment? What is your comment?
MR. MORRELL: I haven't spoken to the secretary about it. You know, we've all been to Iraq several times. Everywhere you go they make it perfectly clear that you don't want to drink the water, so I'm a little surprised myself that this is an issue. As I understand it, the bottled water, which is what you're supposed to be drinking in Iraq, had no issues whatsoever in the testing that was done. Evidently, there was some issue with some of the other water that was, I guess, primarily meant for washing.
And -- but still, based upon this IG report, which I think is over 14 months old or something by now, the period in question, that there's no evidence that any of the illnesses were related to the water. So as far as we can tell, there was no widespread health risk or illness associated with the few problems that were discovered with the water system. But I think our encouragement is always -- for journalists and warfighters alike is read the signs and just drink the bottled water.
Q To go back to the Boeing question --
MR. MORRELL: And then -- and then one -- sorry, one follow-up on that, Jennifer. I think, too, one other point is that since 2006 all the water has met all the health standards. So this is -- if there was a problem, it existed prior to that time. Since then, all the testing has shown that all water, bottled or otherwise, has met our health standards.
Q Speaking of 2006, in December of 2006 Senator McCain wrote a letter to then-Secretary nominee Robert Gates requesting that some of the draft proposals for this contract be -- and some of the language in the draft of the request for proposal be modified. And I'm just curious. Was any action -- did the secretary take any action as a result of that?
MR. MORRELL: With the water contract?
Q This was the Boeing --
MR. MORRELL: The tanker contract. You know, Jamie, it predates my tenure here, and so I am not familiar with what -- if any letters Senator McCain wrote the secretary about this -- I have not had a conversation about this.
Q Well, can you take that question? Because the key criticism there is the suggestion that somehow Senator McCain influenced the Pentagon to change the rules --
MR. MORRELL: What's the specific question you want me to take?
Q What was the secretary's response to the letter McCain sent?
MR. MORRELL: To the letter he received from Senator McCain? All right. Send me an e-mail. I'll take a look at that for you.
Yeah, Jeff Schogol.
Q Do you have any more information about the recent strike in Somalia? For example, whether the U.S. hit the target that it hoped to?
MR. MORRELL: You know, I'm going to stick with my boss on this. He was asked a similar question last week while he was speaking with you, and he made it clear that when it comes to operational matters of that nature, he was not going to comment on them.
As far as I know, we do not have -- I have not heard of a new battle damage assessment based upon that strike. But if I had heard of one, I don't think it's appropriate that I share it from this podium.
Okay. Yeah, Al?
Q Geoff, following up on Lita's question about missile defense, if I remember correctly, I thought that the hope was to have these agreements reached -- both the Czech and the Polish agreements reached by about now, so that the construction could start. Now, with this new Polish demand, obviously some delay's involved. Do you have a new timeline?
MR. MORRELL: No, you're absolutely right, Al. I mean, it was certainly our hope, I think, when we traveled to the Czech Republic at the end of last year, that -- and this was not just our hope; it was the hope of the Czech government as well -- that the -- at that time that -- the Czech prime minister visited the United State -- I think last month he came -- that we would have something to announce. I think things continue to progress with both the Czech Republic and Poland. But unfortunately, we are not yet at the point where I have something tangible to announce for you.
I did check with our policy folks again this morning, and they tell me that we continue to make progress on both fronts. But, like a lot of negotiations, it oftentimes does not go exactly according to your timeline.
Q So no new idea of what kind of time frame?
MR. MORRELL: I was not given a new time frame. I think we are obviously closer with the Czech Republic than we are with Poland, but we continue to work hard on both fronts and remain confident that we will reach an agreement and can get building sooner than later.
Yes. Let me just mix it up and I'll come back, Jonathan.
Q Hi. Emily (Rutherford ?), Defense Daily. I have a question with the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle.
MR. MORRELL: Yes.
Q Do you have numbers for February? And --
MR. MORRELL: Jeff, did you know you're asking -- your question? (Laughter.)
Q I thought -- (off mike).
MR. MORRELL: She's asking your question.
Q And I've got a follow-up after that, just about -- did the task force meet today, the MRAP task force?
MR. MORRELL: They meet -- well, the task force, I don't know whether the task force meets as readily as it once did. I can tell you the secretary will be getting a briefing, his -- I think it's about every two weeks he receives this briefing from John Young and the rest of the MRAP team. He will get that tomorrow afternoon sometime.
I can give you updated numbers in terms of how many were produced last month. We had 1,428 produced. We had hoped to have 1,292 produced, so we came out 136 more than had been budgeted timewise. So that was certainly good news. We now have in theater as of March 5th, 3,432 MRAPs, and 26 and 11 of those have been fielded to warfighters. So --
Q Can I get the January numbers, too?
MR. MORRELL: My January numbers are not handy, but we can certainly provide those to you. That's up -- through January, we had 2,614 in theater, so we've had an increase this month of about 821 to theater.
Q Just one more. Are we going to be hearing about this substantial contract award this week?
MR. MORRELL: With regards to MRAP?
MR. MORRELL: I think there's a decision that has to be made with regards to another buy that could be taking place within that meeting tomorrow. It's not entirely clear to me. As you know, we've been trying to figure out exactly how many MRAPs we need. The Army has presented a new number -- I know you asked about this last week, Jeff. They have a range of need at this point. It's still a pretty wide range, but in the midst of that range, they have sort of pegged an interim objective for the Army at 12,000.
It does not affect dramatically the overall numbers that we are purchasing. I think the overall numbers will go up by about 386 to now 15,760 is sort of this interim number that we're focused on.
Q I have a question about Iraq policy, if I could. We're just a few weeks away from the Petraeus-Crocker visit to Washington to brief Congress and the president. The secretary's told us that he's instructed Admiral Fallon and Admiral Mullen to give separate reviews as well to the president. The secretary gets a vote. Is he preparing a formal, official SECDEF presentation to the president? Will he simply share his advice after everybody's weighed in? And do you think that his assessment, such as it is, will look to specific brigade combat team numbers or will be something more at the strategic risk level? What's he going to do?
MR. MORRELL: I can tell you, if past is prologue, and he clearly -- the secretary clearly believed that the way the system worked last time, that the process he devised last time he thought served the president very well. And in that process, as you know -- and I don't mean to belabor it -- everybody sort of had a chance to share with the president what they thought the best course of action was; the commanding general, the CENTCOM commander, the Joint Chiefs and the secretary.
I would not look -- just as I wouldn't look back -- it didn't happen then and I don't think it's going to happen this time, which is that there's going to be something formally written on paper presented to the president. This will be, I think, more of an oral exchange. The secretary will certainly have a chance to let the president know what he thinks of the ideas that have been put forth by General Petraeus, Admiral Fallon and the Joint Chiefs. But again, I think the hope is that everybody gets a chance to voice to the president their views on the best course for the way ahead in Iraq, and that based upon that information, the president can make a decision and share it with the nation shortly after Petraeus and Crocker testify in early April.
Q The secretary, the man you work for, do you think he will come in with something as tactical as a number of brigade combat teams by December 31st?
MR. MORRELL: I would not be surprised, Thom, if he presented a number.
I don't think he believes, as he often says, that he should be operating an 8,000-mile screwdriver -- 8,000-mile-long screwdriver from Washington, but clearly this is a subject that he deals with each and every day. And force levels are something that he looks at as much as anybody else does. And I would not be surprised that if the president were to ask, he would provide the president with what he thinks are the best numbers. I don't know that to be the case. It just would seem to me to be in keeping with how closely he's monitoring the situation.
Q If I could follow up on that.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q Because there's been much discussion about this pause after the surge. And the secretary himself has said that might be a time for reconsideration, or whatever his exact words were, concerning the conditions on the ground.
MR. MORRELL: Consolidation and evaluation.
Q Thank you very much. But how? How, if he can't really give a specific way forward on reduction of troops immediately following the surge, how could he present a number then at the end of the year on where he thinks combat brigades might be?
MR. MORRELL: I mean, this is a little bit of a slippery slope and I don't want to get too far down this path. I would say this -- and I don't know this to be the case -- but it's conceivable that people could come to the president with the notion that we believe there should be a period, a pause for a period of, as the secretary said, consolidation and evaluation to figure out what the impact is of the last four surge brigades coming out in rapid succession, culminating at the end of July, what the impact on the ground is. We need a certain period of time to evaluate that. If conditions on the ground at the end of that period of time permit, this is what we think is the right course of action.
I'm not saying that's the way anyone is going to go, but I think that's certainly conceivable that you could, in advance, provided the conditions on the ground are steady after that period of -- that pause, that you could commence, re-commence with a drawdown.
Q But you're saying that he very well might have a number in about three weeks.
MR. MORRELL: Based upon if things continue -- we've seen, Jim, a pretty steady line of improvement on conditions on the ground in Iraq. Security has clearly improved. If things were to keep on this course, even as you draw down the next four surge brigades, you can come up with a notion of how you think it should continue provided the situation continues to improve as it has. Very conditions-based, though. It could certainly change based upon a turn for the worse as you take out, you know, the bulk of the surge brigades between now and the end of July.
Q Geoff, do you know if there's been any progress or any updates on the move to 12-month rotations?
Because this has been talked about a lot. The move was coming up; a decision point was coming up.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
I think the secretary had this question last week or the week before. And his answer, I think, still holds in that he is clearly very concerned about the stress on the force, wants to reduce tours of duty in Iraq as quickly as possible. He won't be able to make a decision on when to do that until the way ahead is determined in Iraq. And that's going to come some time next month.
So I would think it's a more pertinent question once we get past that next milestone. But I think he's said and others have said that once you get down to 15 BCTs in Iraq, you have the flexibility for forces who will be deploying after that point to conceivably serve 12 months, boots on the ground, versus the 15 they now do. But I don't think he's prepared to make that decision until we get past the evaluation period next month.
Q Can I ask you about the cost of the war?
MR. MORRELL: You certainly may.
Q We've heard -- some outside experts have even put the real cost of the war in excess of $3 trillion. How does that compare to what the Pentagon believes the cost of this war is?
MR. MORRELL: I think the Pentagon has been extraordinarily transparent in what we know the cost of the war to be.
Since September 11th, 2001, the Department of Defense has obligated $527 billion to the global war on terror. The breakdown: For Operation Iraqi Freedom, it's 406.2 billion; for Operation Enduring Freedom, that's 92.9 billion and for Operation Noble Eagle, which of course is in defense of the homeland, it's another 27.8 billion.
So add that all up, and we come to $527 billion from September 11th, 2001, and this takes us through December 2007. So we don't have the first couple months of this new year.
But that is a considerable expense, but I would remind you it's a considerable expense not just in terms of treasure that's been expended but also in terms of lives lost. As of this morning, I think we were at 3,974 war dead. So it's been an extraordinary sacrifice not only on the part of the American taxpayer but on the warfighter, but all in defense of our national security. Does that help you?
Q Yeah. Obviously there are costs, there are going to be future costs, and some of these estimates are taking a look at projecting what realistically this war is going to cost when it's -- you know, in the next couple of years. And does $3 trillion seem way out of the ballpark?
MR. MORRELL: Seems way out of the ballpark to me. But I am not an accountant, I'm not an economist, and I think that those who are have questioned the methodology of this particular survey. I think they throw everything in the kitchen sink into the survey, including the interest on the national debt. So it seems like an exaggerated number to us.
I don't have any way of knowing what the ultimate cost of the Iraq war or the global war on terror will be. We have tried to be as transparent as we possibly can be with the American people and the Congress, and I think we've done a very good job to date in letting them know what we expect the costs to be. Obviously, I mean, just for anecdote purposes, you had the president of the United States visit the Pentagon last Friday, he went into the tank with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and they were talking about long-term budget issues.
The 2010 budget, the president's final budget, is what they were working on. That comes at a time when we still have not received the remaining balance of our FY '08 GWOT supplemental. We still are owed $105 billion to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year. Those numbers, that request had gone up to the Hill more than a year ago. So we here in this building are certainly doing our part to try to calculate as best we can for the Congress, for the American people what we think this is going to cost, even as the Congress has failed to provide us the money we need to fight the war.
Q Speaking of the long term, would the secretary be open to or consider staying on as secretary if the next president wanted him to stick around for a little bit?
MR. MORRELL: This is one question I can answer with supreme confidence; he is not looking to stay on in any administration. He is serving -- and you all know he carries a counter with him counting down the number of days in this administration's term. He made a deal with his wife that let him come serve the nation for these two years, at the end of which he is due to go home to Washington state and spend more time with his wife and his family in the lovely confines of the Pacific Northwest. But he has no desire to stay on. He has learned long ago never to say never, so I won't say never, but it is not his desire to serve past this administration.
Q Yeah, just days before the fifth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, do you know what's the exact number of casualties -- I mean killed and wounded -- in Iraq?
MR. MORRELL: We can certainly get you those numbers. I didn't come out -- well, actually, maybe I did. Hold on. Pardon me. I mean, I did share with you what our -- regrettably what the total dead were. And in terms of casualties, Joe, wounded in action and returned to duty I have at 16,211. Wounded in action and not returned to duty I have at 13,109. And these are figures that you can get from DefenseLINK. They're prominently displayed under OIF casualties. Okay?
Q Related to the defense -- missile defense system --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q -- there have been some reports in the Turkish press and some U.S. officials that Turkey might be getting into the system as well. I know you've been to Turkey with Secretary Gates. Can you answer if there is any talks, there will be any talks?
MR. MORRELL: Well, we did -- I mean, and the secretary talked about this, I think, on that trip. Correct me, those who were with us, if that didn't -- you were with us, right, Ben? Yeah, I think we did talk about this, that part of our talks with the Turkish government last week or the week before last was indeed missile defense. I must tell you the focus of the talks at the time primarily dealt with the cross-border operation into northern Iraq, but missile defense did come up during the course of our talks, not only with the Turkish military, but with President Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan, not that it was so much an issue here.
I know last week, and the secretary got a question on this, about this notion of somehow there being a new policy position, of our government or this department, when it comes to dealing with the PKK. And I thought the secretary did a good job of shooting that down, although I think it came up after the secretary's press conference last week. And I just want to reiterate this notion that in no way is anybody in this department advocating that we sit down and negotiate with terrorists.
What has been suggested is that there needs to be a comprehensive approach to dealing with the Kurdish problem that the Turks face. And the secretary and others have advocated that there needs to be outreach to the larger Kurdish community so that you can diminish the pool from which the PKK recruits. That is the extent to which anyone here is advocating outreach: not to terrorists but to those who they could recruit. After all, the effort here is to reconcile those who are reconcilable and to isolate those who aren't.
Q Can you give more details about the missile defense talks?
MR. MORRELL: I can't. I can't. I know it was -- I was in the meetings. It was a subject of discussion, but I don't think we want to get into specifics at this point.
We have one or two more.
Q You had mentioned the Army had revised its request to about 12,000 MRAPs. Has the secretary approved this request?
MR. MORRELL: As far as I know, Jeff, this has not come before him since you asked the question, so nothing has changed since then. As I'd said, he's got a meeting tomorrow, at which I'm sure this will come up.
Q And also there was a point when the Army was looking at reducing its request for MRAPs. Do you know what changed that prompted them to ask --
MR. MORRELL: Well, I think, what's been clear about this from the beginning is that we were going to always evaluate our need based upon what the commanders on the ground are telling us.
The Army has taken perhaps more time than most, given its size and given the burdens it now is dealing with, to figure out what exactly it is going to need, not just now but for the long term, as we're buying these vehicles in mass quantities. And they still have not pegged the exact number. But as it is, they've revised it upwards, and right now we are shooting for 12,000 as the Army number. That could still change based upon what the commanders are telling us.
Okay, two more, these two, and then we've got to go.
Q Geoff, you talked about the process by which the Defense establishment will decide how to proceed in Iraq.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q But in terms of reducing from 15 to 12-month deployments, can you talk about that process as well? Will this be sort of a collective sort of judgment by the same group of senior commanders and officials and Secretary Gates?
I mean, will it be sort of a consensus --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah --
Q -- or does Secretary Gates ultimately decide, "Okay, this is my decision; I'll skip the input," and he makes the call?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, ultimately it is the secretary's call. He's the one who signs all the deployment orders that come out of the Department of Defense. So like most things in this building, ultimately it is his call. And he's prepared to make the call; when he's armed with all the information he needs to be able to safely reduce the amount of required boots on the ground time, he will do so.
But I think you will likely see, as is his nature, a rather inclusive process. He has regular meetings with General Casey and the commandant, and obviously with the chiefs, about the stress on the force and the need to reduce deployment length and when it can be done, based upon what the mission is on the ground and how many forces are needed to complete that mission.
Q (Off mike) -- part of the discussion or part of the discussions that'll be taking place in April?
MR. MORRELL: I -- you know, it was not a part of the discussions as far as -- I mean, obviously stress on the force obviously will factor into the assessment the president is given. It has clearly been a part of the Joint Chiefs' presentation to the president. I imagine it will be again. I'm not -- it's not clear to me, Bill, that it is going to be -- that reducing tour length is part of what's going to be discussed in April. It may be a by-product of what comes out of April. But it's not clear to me that that is -- that's not the objective of the conversation. The objective of the conversation is, what do we need for success in Iraq, and can the force handle it?
Q One last question on missile defense. Senator Kyl today indicated that certain presidential candidates and their position on missile defense makes him a little nervous, also retaining Democratic control in Congress. Is there any position -- I know you guys have talked about, for example, presidential candidates that would make you nervous in terms of troop withdrawal.
MR. MORRELL: I don't --
Q Is there any position in terms of missile defense that you'd like to see in another administration, how they'd like to take missile defense, or consider what's already been done by this building under this administration?
MR. MORRELL: You know, I think we've been very careful -- and I don't know to what you're referring to earlier -- we've been very careful not to get involved in politics, try as some may to lure us down that road from this podium. We just don't think it's appropriate to comment on the elections or what the possible implications will be of the elections. I know that the secretary is concerned about trying to make sure that whoever nominees are are armed with as much knowledge as they can be about what the reality is of the situation on the ground, so that they can make informed comments as the campaign goes on. But you will not see us getting into whether or not we think one candidate has a sound policy on missile defense or another does not.
Al, I said two more, but I would like to give you the last question.
Q Thank you. Actually, I would like you to just clarify what you just said before I ask my last question.
MR. MORRELL: No, no, no. It's not that good.
Q (Off mike) -- are you providing them with information now or after the nominations?
MR. MORRELL: No, no. Not yet.
MR. MORRELL: Not yet.
Q I wanted to ask about something General Kelly said this morning.
MR. MORRELL: All right. One more.
Q He said that he's seen indications that al Qaeda could be preparing or hoping to execute some large-scale attacks again, and I wonder if that's a broader concern outside of his AOR in the west, or whether you're hearing that -- any sort of heightened state of alert or heightened concerns about large-scale attacks.
MR. MORRELL: Well, as you may have seen, sadly we had -- we lost five soldiers today in a large-scale attack on a dismounted patrol in Multinational Division Baghdad. So -- and there have been other recent attacks.
I think what the commanders believe is going on is that as we take the fight to al Qaeda in what is its remaining strongholds, primarily in the north, Diyala, Nineveh, and Al Salahuddin, that we are starting to see some elements of al Qaeda lash out in other areas, perhaps in an attempt to distract us from the fight that's now under way in the north. But we are -- we are confident that we can adjust to meet this new tactic, if it is such a tactic, and handle not just the operations that have been ongoing in the north but also where they make crop up in the south as well.
All right? Thanks so much.
Q Just housekeeping, not a question. If you get an answer on the secretary's response to the McCain tanker letter, can you make sure it's distributed as opposed to just one single e-mail -- (off mike)?
MR. MORRELL: All right.
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