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The Kissinger Telcons

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 123

Edited by Thomas Blanton and Dr. William Burr

Posted May 26, 2004

Archive director discusses Kissinger telcons on NPR's
All Things Considered, 27 May 2004

New Kissinger Telcons Released 26 May 2004

The Dobrynin File: "Happy Birthday" Henry Kissinger

Kissinger Telcons on Chile

Telcons Previously Released in Other Nixon Presidential Files

A Side-by-Side Comparison of a Kissinger Telcon and a Nixon Tape of the Same Conversation

Legal Documents

Washington, D.C., May 26, 2004 - Five years after the National Security Archive initiated legal action to compel the State Department and the National Archives to recover the transcripts of Henry Kissinger's telephone calls from his "private" collection at the Library of Congress, the National Archives today released approximately 20,000 declassified pages (10 cubic feet) of these historic records, spanning Kissinger's tenure under President Nixon from 1969 to August 1974 as national security adviser and also as secretary of state beginning in September 1973.

To celebrate the public recovery of this previously sequestered history, the National Security Archive today posted "The Kissinger Telcons," the 123rd Electronic Briefing Book in the Archive's award-winning series. Highlights of the posting include ten of the telcons released today.

The defense secretary wishes he could sweep under the rug the atrocity photographs. The national security adviser agrees, but the newspapers already have the photos. So they decide to blame the low-level officer, who must have been insane.

Iraqi prisons? No, it's Melvin Laird and Henry Kissinger, trying to spin the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. This 21 November 1969 telephone call transcript is one of the highlights of the newly-released Kissinger telcons posted today by the National Security Archive. Others include President Nixon ordering the massive bombing of Cambodia one night in December 1970, followed by Kissinger laughing with aide Alexander Haig about Nixon's bluster and agreeing to send a few B-52s instead. The posting also includes the Associated Press lead item, in which Kissinger puts off the British prime minister's phone call to President Nixon because Nixon was "loaded." Today's posting also includes a special section including a key Kissinger telcon on Chile with more to come tomorrow.

The posting also includes ten Kissinger telcons previously obtained by Archive senior analyst Dr. William Burr. The latter were among the thousands of pages officially released today, but we found copies in other, previously released, Nixon administration files and are providing them here as a sampler of things to come in the new release. These records feature conversations with President Nixon, Motion Picture Association president Jack Valenti, and Chase Manhattan Bank chairman David Rockefeller, among others.

Today's posting also includes the full text of the finding aid to the Kissinger telcons collection, created by the Nixon Presidential Materials Staff of the National Archives and Records Administration. The finding aid describes the checkered history of the telcons as follows:

In the late 1970s, a reporter [William Safire] and two organizations [the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Military Audit Project] sued to gain access to the telcons under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The federal district court and the US court of appeals both ruled that the documents were government records becuase they were prepared on government time by government employees. These lower courts stated that the State Department telcons should be returned to the State Department and reviewed for release under FOIA. In 1980, the Supreme Court, in Kissinger v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 445 U.S. 136 (1980), reversed the decision, ruling that the FOIA did not apply to the telcons because they were outside of the Executive branch. The Court noted, however, that the Federal Records Act (FRA) provided authority for the Archivist of the United States, the agency head, and the Attorney General to recover improperly removed records. Accordingly, at the National Archive's behest, then Secretary of State Edmund Muskie agreed in 1980 to re-review the telcons at the LC for possible return to State, However, that review never took place. In 2001, Dr. Kissinger, upon request from NARA and the State Department following inquiries from researchers [that is, the legal complaint about to be filed in court by the National Security Archive], gave both agencies copies of the transcripts held at LC. NARA photocopied the collection held at LC and began processing it for public release. The State Department is reviewing its collection and will release it at a later time.

Also included in today's posting are:


I. New Kissinger Telcons Released 26 May 2004

Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.

Document 1: Kissinger and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, 21 November 1969, 3:50 p.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations Transcripts, Chronological File, Box 3, File 3, 083-084

A week after Seymour Hersh had broken the story of the My Lai massacre in the New York Times, Kissinger wanted to make sure that Laird had a "game plane" so that the Pentagon was on "top" of the story. Laird had known about My Lai since the spring but a witness had gruesome photographs that were appearing in the press. Plainly appalled by the massacre but anxious to avoid having the Pentagon tarred by an atrocity, Laird did not know what to do. While he was inclined to sweep it "under the rug", Laird did not dissent when Kissinger warned him that could not be done.

Document 2: Kissinger and President Richard M. Nixon, 9 December 1970, 8:45 p.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations Transcripts, Home File, Box 29, File 2

Anxious about the Cambodian situation, Nixon ordered Kissinger to direct bombing attacks on North Vietnamese forces there "tomorrow." He wanted to "hit everything there", using the "big planes" and the "small planes." "I don't want any screwing around." The discussion raised an interesting issue--the Cold War U.S. Air Force was geared to waging nuclear war against the Soviet Union but not for "this war"--conventional bombing operations in Southeast Asia. As Kissinger noted the U.S. Air Force is not "designed for any war that we are likely to have to fight." Nixon agreed: "There isn't going to be any air battle against the Soviet Union"--that would mean a catastrophic nuclear war.

Document 3: Kissinger and General Alexander M. Haig, Jr., 9 December 1970, 8:50 p.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations Transcripts, Home File, Box 29, File 2, 106-10

A few minutes later after receiving Nixon's call on Cambodia, Kissinger telephoned his military assistant Alexander Haig about the orders from "our friend." After he described Nixon's instructions for a "massive bombing campaign" involving "anything that flys [or] anything that moves", the notetaker apparently heard Haig "laughing." Both Haig and Kissinger knew that what Nixon had ordered was logistically and politically impossible so they translated it into a plan for massive bombing in a particular district (not identifiable because the text is incomplete). These two phone calls illustrate an important feature of the Nixon-Kissinger relationship: while Nixon would, from time to time, make preposterous suggestions (no doubt depending on his mood), Kissinger would later decide whether there was a rational kernel in what Nixon had said and whether or how to follow up on it. (Note 1)

Document 4: Kissinger and President Richard M. Nixon, 15 April 1972, 10:25 p.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations Transcripts, Home File, Box 29, File 8

Two weeks after the North Vietnamese launch their spring offensive on 31 March 1972, Nixon ordered bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong, including mining operations at the latter's harbor. When Nixon ordered the bombing campaign he realized there was some chance that it could jeopardize the Moscow summit with Brezhnev scheduled for Moscow later in May. As this discussion shows, a meeting that Kissinger had with Ambassador Dobrynin earlier in the day indicated that there would be no problem. Employing language that Nixon liked to use, Kissinger disdainfully reported that "Dobrynin was in slobbering over me." Kissinger observed that the Soviets were not following the "peacenik" textbook by "yelling and screaming" about the bombing; instead, they found it more expedient to cultivate their relationship with the other superpower. Unless the Soviets "screw us," Kissinger's secret visit, slated for the following week, and the summit would go ahead.

Document 5: Kissinger and Soviet Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoli Dobrynin, 15 December 1972, 5:41 p.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations Transcripts, Anatoly Dobrynin File, Box 27, File 7, 09

In late 1972, the Paris negotiations on the Vietnam War entered an intense and frustrating stage where the North Vietnamese were unwilling to accept conditions proposed by the U.S. on behalf of its South Vietnamese ally. In the first two weeks of December, the talks reached an impasse and were suspended, slated for resumption in early January. Kissinger returned to Washington and North Vietnam's chief negotiator Le Duc Tho headed to Moscow to convince the Soviets to put pressure on Washington. Kissinger and Dobrynin discussed Tho's visit to Moscow in condescending terms, with the former suggesting that Le Duc Tho was coming to Moscow "crying on your shoulder." Once Tho was in Moscow, Dobrynin joked, the Soviets would find out how "nice" he was. While Dobrynin shared a laugh with his U.S.partner at the expense of an ally, he did not realize that his American interlocutor did not hold the Ambassador's position on Vietnam in high esteem and had laughed with Nixon at a "slobbering" Dobrynin (See Document 4). The Soviet ambassador might not have been quite so joking if he had known that Nixon and Kissinger were making decisions to launch a bombing campaign against North Vietnam. Through bombing the North, Nixon and Kissinger hoped to persuade the recalcitrant Saigon regime that it could rely on the Nixon administration to punish Hanoi in the event of future violations of the peace agreement.

Document 6 : Kissinger and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, 3 January 1973, 4:00 p.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations Transcripts, Chronological File, Box 17, 1973 2-6

During the December 1972 Christmas bombing," the Nixon White House sought to destroy military targets in North Vietnam. Yet, some of the targets were in Hanoi and precision bombing by high-flying B-52s was impossible. In a notorious incident, bombs aimed at another target struck Bach Mai hospital in central Hanoi killing 30 people. As is evident from this conversation with Secretary of Defense Laird, the accidental bombing of civilian facilities in North Vietnam triggered international protests. On his way out of the Pentagon, Laird had not supported the bombing strategy recommending diplomatic compromise instead but had been responsible for overseeing the bombing operations. Thus, he was unhappy to see his agency associated with "lousy stories" about "hospitals and schools" publicized by "leftwing Joan Baez" and other anti-war critics. Laird hoped that Kissinger would bring the problem to Nixon's attention so that a "positive" story about the bombing of military targets could be spun.

Document 7 : Kissinger and World Bank President Robert McNamara, 3 January 1973, 5:45 p.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations Transcripts, Chronological File, Box 17, 1973 2-6

Long before he was ready to acknowledge that he had been "terribly wrong" on Vietnam, Robert McNamara privately offered his support for Kissinger's Vietnam War endgame. Apparently a fan, McNamara told Kissinger that he was "the man who finally got us out of there." Not questioning the Christmas bombing, McNamara observed that "not everybody is as critical as some of those damn columnists." Both agreed that ending the U.S. fighting role in Vietnam required a "conscious ambiguity"; in other words, an unambiguous U.S. diplomatic victory was impossible (for example, the U.S. would have to accept the presence of North Vietnamese forces in the South). That McNamara referred to the war as "the damn thing" suggested a deeper level of discomfort that he would not discuss in public for many years.

Document 8: Kissinger and John Crewdson (New York Times), 22 September 1973, 6:15 p.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations Transcripts, Chronological File, Box 22, File 5

The day after the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Kissinger Secretary of State, a New York Times reporter reminded him of an unpleasant subject--the wiretaps that Nixon and Kissinger had approved in 1969 to plumb the source of press leaks on the secret bombing of Cambodia. Crewdson had a new angle from an undisclosed source-- Kissinger's own telephones may have been wiretapped; apparently someone else in the White House had suspected (not unreasonably) that Kissinger had been involved in press leaks. Crewdson had been working on the story for some time and wanted to speak with Kissinger before reporting on it. Kissinger responded that he had never been officially told that he had been wiretapped, but he wanted the story to go away: "as far as I'm concerned, I'd just as soon not have any more wiretap stories." Nevertheless, Crewdson pursued the story and on 25 November 1973 the Times ran this headline: "Kissinger Is Said to Cite Taps on Him." Not long before his confirmation hearings, Crewdson reported, Kissinger had told an aid that he was "virtually certain" that he had been wiretapped. While Nixon had certainly put Kissinger on tape, White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and his assistant Lawrence Higby later denied that any wiretapping operation had been aimed at Kissinger. (Note 2)

Document 9: Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, 11 October 1973, 5:55 p.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations Transcripts, Chronological File, Box 22, File 10, 089

On Wednesday 10 October, a financial scandal forced Vice President Spiro Agnew to resign; kickbacks that he had taken years earlier when he was involved in Maryland politics had come to light. Nixon was already preoccupied by the Watergate scandal and this latest political crisis came only days into the Middle East war. Apparently such developments led Nixon to take comfort in drinking; not a heavy drinker, he did not hold alcohol well. When British Prime Minister Edward Heath called to discuss the Middle East with Nixon, Kissinger told Scowcroft that this was impossible because the president was "loaded." Apparently, Scowcroft was not surprised; this problem had long been the subject of banter among Kissinger and the NSC staff. In any event, Kissinger and Scowcroft agreed that Heath's office should be told the president is not "available" and that the conversation should take place in the morning.

Document 10: Kissinger and Norm Kempster (Washington Star), 2 January 1974, 12:25 p.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversations Transcripts, Chronological File, Box 24, File 4, 094

Even the smallest incident would be recorded in the transcripts, such as this brief discussion with a startled reporter who found himself speaking with the Secretary of State.

Notes

1. See Walter Isaacson's Kissinger: A Biography (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1992) for considerable discussion of this point.

2. Isaacson, Kissinger, pp. 233-233.


Telcons Previously Released in Other Nixon Presidential Files

Document 1: Nixon and Kissinger, 11 March 1969, c. 10:00 p.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, National Security Council Files. Box 489. Dobrynin/Kissinger 1969 (Part I)

Not long after the White House and Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin had established a secret "back channel" to the Soviet Union (excluding the State Department), Kissinger and Nixon discussed a recent meeting with Dobrynin, as well as Vietnam war negotiations, other developments in Vietnam, the Sino-Soviet border clash, and anti-ballistic missile issues. At the close of thediscussion, Nixon observed that Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird wanted to "get out" of Vietnam and would "pay a big price" to do so. As the following months would show, Laird would play a key role in forcing troop withdrawals from Vietnam.

Document 2: Nixon and Kissinger, 14 January 1970, 5:40 p.m., Excised Copy
Source: Gerald R. Ford Library, Kissinger/Scowcroft West Wing Office File, Vietnam War, Secret Peace Talks [Mr. "S" File] (7) 1/1/70-12/31/70

Nixon and Kissinger discussed Vietnam negotiations, World War II, French diplomacy, Middle East, the government budget, the Nigerian crisis, and a Nixon foreign policy statement. As with most of these conversations, much contextual information is needed to make sense of them; moreover, sometimes the transcriber could not even get what the participants were saying, as is evident from occasional blanks in the text. At the close of the call, Nixon talked about his foreign policy innovation ("the Nixon doctrine") but revealed his grudges against the late President Kennedy: If a recent speech "was said by the Kennedys the papers would have emoted all over the place."Document 3: Nixon and Kissinger, 10 March 1970, 10:40 a.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project. National Security Council Files. Box 612. Israeli Aid

Kissinger and Nixon discussed how to tell the Israelis the good news (economic aid up to $8 million, a message the White House would deliver) and the bad news (no new military aid except to replace losses in fighting with Egyptians, a message left to the State Department). At the very end of the call, Kissinger raised the issue of the investigation of the My Lai massacre, and advises Nixon to let Secretary of Defense Laird handle it.

Document 4: Nixon and Kissinger 17 March 1970, 8:07 p.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project. National Security Council Files. Box 612. Israeli Aid

After briefly discussing the aid packages to Israel, Nixon and Kissinger turned to the My Lai investigation. While Kissinger was a little queasy ("some of the stories are awful" with "400 people were killed there and it [went] on for days"), Nixon was more hardnosed("these boys [US soldiers] being killed by women carrying that stuff in their satchels"). They go on to discuss the next bombing campaign against North Vietnam if a "provocation" occurred.

Document 5: Nixon and Kissinger, 24 September 1970, 11:30 p.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project. National Security Council Files. HAK Office Files. Box 128. Chronology of Cuban Submarine Base Episode 1970-1971

Soviet plans to develop a nuclear submarine base at Cienfuegos, Cuba caused a mini-U.S-Soviet crisis in the fall of 1970. A developing crisis in Jordan also threatened East-West tensions. Here Nixon discussed with Kissinger tactics for talking about Cienfuegos with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin, as well as Nixon's presentation to wealthy Republicans, and the Jordanian crisis. As was customary, Kissinger laid it on thick in complimenting Nixon ("you certainly laid it on them", "if not you or this Administration, who?").Document 6: Nixon and Kissinger 24 September 1970, 6:40 p.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project. National Security Council Files. HAK Office Files. Box 128. Chronology of Cuban Submarine Base Episode 1970-1971

This call featured more discussion of tactics in dealing with Dobrynin over Cienfuegos. While Dobrynin wanted to deliver a Kremlin message on a summit to Nixon, the latter is reluctant to take it unless the message was positive: "I don't think we want to appear that everytime he comes back [from Moscow], I'm going to slobber over him." During the brief discussion of the Jordanian crisis, Kissinger stated that Iraqi soldiers were providing aid and "changing into Fedayeen uniforms."

Document 7: Kissinger and Christian Science Monitor Washington Bureau Chief Saville Davis, 17 December 1970, 3:04 p.m.
Record Group 59. Records of the Department of State. Summaries of the Undersecretary's Meetings with the National Security Advisor. Box 1. Irwin/KissingerLunches 1970-71

This call demonstrated a classic Kissinger interaction with the press. After the Monitor published a story critical of Kissinger's NSC staff and NSC-State relations, Davis called up to apologize stating that the writer was out of his "depth." Whether the story was accurate or not, undoubtedly doubt Davis believed that Kissinger had to be accommodated if the Monitor was going to preserve its access to him.

Document 8: Conversation with Madame Jean Sainteny, 13 May 1971, 8:15 a.m.
Source: Source: Gerald R. Ford Library, Kissinger/Scowcroft West Wing Office File, Vietnam War, Secret Peace Talks [Mr. "S" File] (8) 1/1/71-6/30/71

Jean Sainteny, who had served in the French colonial administration in Vietnam in the 1940s had close contacts with the North Vietnamese and, as "Mr. S", cooperated with Kissinger as a secret intermediary. Kissinger wanted Sainteny to meet with him in Washington later in the month but found that this would involve taking on duties as a "tourist agency" to make sure that the visit couldtake place.

Document 9: Kissinger and Motion Picture Association President Jack Valenti, 15 October 1971 9:05 a.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project. National Security Council Files. HAK Office Files. Box 87. PRC Personal Requests 1971-73

Kissinger's key role in pulling off the U.S.-China rapprochement meant that he would receive requests for favors and advice from friends in high plaes. Not long before his second trip to Beijing, Kissinger received a phone call from Jack Valenti. Wanting to develop exports of movies to China, Valenti hoped that he could bring some movie stars to Beijing to promote film, "a common link between people."

Document 10: Kissinger and Chase Manhattan Bank chairman David Rockefeller, 13 March 1972, 11:12 a.m.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project. National Security Council Files. HAK Office Files. Box 87. PRC Personal Requests 1971-73

After congratulating Kissinger on some undisclosed triumph and offering him a plane ride to the next Bilderberg meeting, Rockefellerasked how he could get a visa to visit China. Kissinger was not too surprised (the president of American Express was also trying to get one) and said he would try to find out through "various channels." He assured Rockefeller that the Chinese were "less hung up on the name Rockefeller than the Russians. They don't think they're running the country."


A side-by-side comparison of a Kissinger telcon and a Nixon tape of the same conversation

When Kissinger was in office he would sometimes circulate "telcons" to staffers when they needed them for their work and occasionally the documents, such as the one below, would remain in the files. One of the more fascinating aspects of this transcript of a telephone conversation between President Richard Nixon and Kissinger is that while Kissinger's secretary was listening in and transcribing the conversation, Nixon had a tape recorder that simultaneously taped the call. Neither realized that the other was making a record of the conversation.

The "telcon" is very close to the tape in content although not in all of the wording (no doubt it was difficult for the transcriber to keep up with every word). The tape (number 2-52 in the Nixon tapes), however, is not available in its entirety; several portions were excised when the tape was released in 1999. Nevertheless, the "telcon" in the Nixon presidential materials was released in full last spring, and it immediately becomes evident that two of the deletions, withdrawn on privacy grounds, are Kissinger's critical comments on U.S. representative to the United Nations George H.W. Bush. The other excision made on "national security" grounds was Kissinger's reference to the secret Pakistani channel that Nixon and Zhou Enlai used to exchange messages. That the secrecy censors deleted the reference to Pakistan is astonishing given that information on the Pakistani channel has been available for years, not least in Henry Kissinger's memoirs, White House Years (1979), and has been declassified in numerous documents in the Nixon Presidential Materials Project at the National Archives.

The substance of the Kissinger-Nixon phone conversation concerned a message that Kissinger had received at 6:15 p.m. that day from Chinese premier Zhou Enlai. Zhou's message set the stage for Kissinger's secret visit to Beijing on 9 July, the subsequent Nixon trip to China, and the beginning of normalization of relations with China. Zhou's message was delivered through the secret Pakistani channel between Beijing and Washington that had been established during 1969. Confirming earlier messages, Zhou wrote that the People's Republic of China was willing to receive a "special envoy of the U.S. (for instance, Mr. Kissinger) ... or even the President of the U.S. himself for direct meeting and discussions." Kissinger immediately walked the message over to the Oval Office and an hour or so later, Nixon discussed it on the telephone with Kissinger. Zhou had suggested Kissinger as a "special envoy," but in his phone call to Kissinger, Nixon discussed anybody else as envoy--New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Vietnam negotiator Ambassador David K. E. Bruce, U.S. representative to the United Nation ambassador George H.W. Bush, Secretary of Health Education and Welfare Elliot Richardson, and even the recently deceased GOP presidential candidate Thomas Dewey. Nixon was toying with Kissinger, who wanted to go to Beijing. The next day, Nixon settled the suspense and told Kissinger that he would be going to Beijing.

[See also Tom Blanton, "Kissinger's Revenge: While Nixon was bugging Kissinger, guess who was bugging Nixon," Slate, posted Monday, Feb. 18, 2002)]

TELCON, "The President/Mr. Kissinger," 8:18 p.m., April 27, 1971
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, National Archives and Records Administration, National Security Files, Box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China, December 1969-July 1971 (1)

Audio clip: Conversation 2-52, President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, 8:18 p.m., April 27, 1971. (Full clip is 9.38 MB - MP3 format)
Above clip divided into four parts: (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4)
Source: White House Tapes, Nixon Presidential Materials Project, National Archives and Records Administration


Legal Documents

Henry Kissinger, Deed of Gift and Agreement with United States Library of Congress, November 12, 1976, 6 pp.

Henry Kissinger, Second Deed of Gift and Agreement with United States Library of Congress, December 24, 1976, 1 p.

National Security Archive to Archivist of the United States John W. Carlin, January 15, 1999, 1 p.

Archivist of the United States John W. Carlin to National Security Archive, January 21, 1999, 1 p.

Attorneys for National Security Archive to National Archives and Records Administration and Department of State, January 25, 2001, 2 pp. [Encloses letter from State Department Spokesman James P. Rubin to Archivist of the United States John W. Carlin, 2 pp.]

Complaint by National Security Archive presented to the Archivist of the United States and the Secretary of State, January 25, 2001, 10 pp. [Attachment to previous letter]

Attorneys for National Security Archive to Department of State, National Archives and Records Administration, and Department of Justice, April 25, 2001, 3 pp.

United States Department of State Press Release, "Former Secretary of State Kissinger Provides Department with Documents," August 8, 2001

 

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