Improving the World's View of America At a time when thousands of people are trying to get into the United States, America has an image problem abroad. Author Julia Sweig says the U.S. can change that anti-American sentiment and she talks about ways to improve attitudes toward America.
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Improving the World's View of America

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Improving the World's View of America

Improving the World's View of America

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

In just a few minutes, we'll hear from Julia Sweig about her new book, Friendly Fire. But first, some news that was wheeled in--court documents filed by prosecutors in the case of Lewis Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Richard Cheney that were made public today. In them, Lewis Libby alleges that President Bush authorizes the leak of classified information about Iraq.

The documents were filed as part of the investigation into who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame. But they do not say that President Bush or Vice President Cheney approved the release of Plame's identity, nor do the documents imply that the president or vice president violated any rules or laws that classify--that govern classified material.

Richard Kyle is chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News. He joins us now on the phone from his office here in Washington, D.C.

Now, Mr. Kyle, nice to have you with us on the program today.

Mr. RICHARD KYLE (Chief White House Correspondent, Bloomberg News): Glad to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: Now, what have we learned from these documents today?

Mr. KYLE: What we learned, for the first time, is that President Bush was in the chain of events that ultimately led to the revelation of Valerie Plame's name. You did raise two very important points there. There's no indication from the court filing that Patrick Fitzgerald believes that President Bush did anything illegal. And, indeed, there's no evidence, from the filing, that Fitzgerald has any sense that Bush was aware that the end result of this enterprise would be the revelation of the CIA agent's name.

The real problem from the president, likely, is going to be more political than legal, because, indeed, presidents do have the authority to classify the material and information, and declassify it. This is working off of an executive order President Bill Clinton signed in 1995. It was modified in March of 2003 by President Bush, amended essentially to extend a lot of these same privileges and powers to the vice president.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And now, this is in the context of inquiries. This is after the invasion of Iraq, and a lot of people were saying where are the weapons of mass destruction? A lot of reporters calling in--this is the context in which the president authorized, through the vice president, Lewis Scooter Libby, basically, to talk to Judy Miller of the New York Times.

Mr. KYLE: That's right. The view from 40,000 feet, if you will. What's important to keep in mind here is that all of these things took place as the administration was trying to deal with the now famous op-ed piece by Ambassador Joe Wilson in the New York Times, July 6th of 2003, In which he became the first person publicly to question or criticize the administration's use of prewar intelligence. Of course, focusing in this case on statements the administration had made about Saddam Hussein's alleged attempts to buy nuclear materials in Africa.

Wilson, we'll remember, had taken a trip at his wife's recommendation, taken a trip to Niger in 2002, concluded that those reports were bogus, as indeed, they turned out to be the product of forged documents more than anything else. But he had gone public with his criticisms in July 6th op-ed in the Times. And the administration, in the ensuing ten days, spent an awful lot of time scrambling, trying to deal with that.

CONAN: And, of course, Ambassador Wilson claims that the disclosure of his wife's name, Valerie Plame, as a covert CIA agent was an act of revenge by the administration trying to get him back. And, indeed, that's what Mr. Libby is up for.

And what does this filing tell us about Lewis Libby's strategy?

Mr. KYLE: Well, it's a very interesting window into what the government thinks of Lewis Libby's strategy. Much of his defense to date, that we can glean through pretrial motions and filings, he's essentially been setting himself up to say that he forgot who he talked to about what, when; because he's, indeed, such a busy person. In other words, to create an argument that any revelation or slip of Valerie Plame's name passing to a reporter would have been an accident, an inadvertent mistake.

But what these--what the filings today makes clear, beyond the headline material involving President Bush, is that the prosecutor is prepared to make the case that Libby is a very methodical and organized person, which those who know him well say is true. And, indeed, raise questions about how likely it would be for Libby to have simply forgotten the fact that the president himself authorized Libby in a highly unusually fashion, authorized Libby to talk to a reporter about some of the classified intelligence.

For a man with a security clearance like Libby, the filing implies it's extraordinarily difficult to believe that he would have forgotten the significance of that, or who authorized him to do it.

CONAN: In the court papers, Libby noted, quote, “It was unique in his recollection,” unquote, to get approval from the president, via the vice president, to discuss material with a reporter.

So, thanks very much for that, and, of course, much more later today on NPR News.

Richard Kyle, we appreciate your time today.

Mr. KYLE: Glad to be with you.

CONAN: Richard Kyle is the chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News. And he joined us from his office here in Washington, D.C.

Well, three years ago, the United States led an invasion of Iraq despite the opposition of the U.N. Security Counsel and many allies. Two years ago, the horrifying photographs from Abu Ghraib Prison appeared to confirm the worst suspicions about the treatment of prisoners. Last year, Washington's response to Hurricane Katrina looked to many people around the world like indifference to the poor.

The United States continues to preach democracy and human rights. But in a new book, foreign policy analyst Julie Sweig argues that the U.S. has squandered the benefit of the doubt it used to enjoy around the world, and that we've now entered what she calls the, “anti-American century.” A specialist on Latin America, Sweig says U.S. policies in that part of the world, going back more than a century, established a pattern of unilateralism and intervention, which prompted resentments that transformed anti-Americanism into a nearly universal stance today.

More recently, she argues that similar policies elsewhere in the world have generated similar passions. There are ways to soften or reverse the trend, she says. But that demand changes in substance, and not just style.

Later in the program, we'll check in on Capitol Hill where the Senate is struggling to find consensus on an immigration bill. Listen in as the president of the United States faces one of his critics in a challenging question from the audience. And who wins and who loses, as the CBS Evening News raids Today and Today raids The View?

But first: anti-Americanism. Should the U.S. change its policies on the basis of what others think about us? If so, how? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. The email address is

Julie Sweig is director for Latin American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Her new book is Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century. She joins us here in Studio 3A.

Thanks very much for coming in.

Dr. JULIA SWEIG (Director, Latin American Studies, Council on Foreign Relations): Thanks so much for having me, Neal.

CONAN: And let's start out with the present and that assertion, the anti-American century.

Dr. SWEIG: Well, it may be premature to call a century that is barely six years old the anti-American century. But by comparison to the 20th century, the century Henry Lewis called the American century, I think it has the markings of becoming the anti-American century unless we make some course corrections.

Now, why is that? On the foreign policy front in the 20th century, let's say since World War Two, the United States credibly led a global coalition that after 40 years succeeded, and this is a rough generalization, in bringing about the collapse of the Soviet Union through a strategy of containment. It had its upsides. It had its dark sides. But nevertheless, when that Cold War ended, the United States came out looking pretty rosy.

And at home, domestically, who we were as a country, our - the sense that we were together on a progressive trajectory, expanding the tents of political rights, enhancing the ability for all people to participate in a middle-class meritocracy, that strengthened our credibility abroad, helped us be seen as a potential model by others. The anti-American century, I fear, we've both lost our credibility as the world leader, internationally. And at home, domestically, who we are, I believe is not helping so much. We have a problem with our own middle-class meritocracy eroding, and we have a very strong feeling of xenophobia and insularity that we've seen just in the last few years. That sends a message to others abroad that maybe we're not the only model, the only guy on the block whom others want to emulate.

CONAN: Yet we have, you know, American products, particularly entertainment products, are welcomed around the world, admired around the world. People literally risk their lives to come into this country to take advantage of the opportunities here.

Dr. SWEIG: They do and the paradox is a positive one, because it means that all is not lost. On the one hand, just to get the question of the fact that people like our stuff and find our, what we produce, culturally, to be appealing--that's true, but even in that respect, you know, you talk to some of the individuals in the private sector, and look at the consumer surveys that are done and what, that have been done and what they see is that a change in attitude is afoot. And they fear that the purchase of an American product is no longer associated with grasping at a piece of the American dream.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SWEIG: People like our stuff, but as I say in the book, they don't necessarily want our political, diplomatic baggage that goes along with it.

CONAN: Yet the opposition at the moment in Belarus is the Blue Jeans Revolution. You see people at anti-globalization rallies around the world wearing Nike baseball caps.

Dr. SWEIG: Of course. And I think that we have to distinguish from what is the important sort of anti-American manifestations, and what are the kinds that are less important. And I don't think, at least in my book, my concern is not people running around in Nikes at anti-globalization protests. My concern is that there's no single global issue on the planet today that the United States can solve by itself.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SWEIG: And that without allies among those countries that have been traditionally our friends and supporters and partners, and without the capacity to build new alliances, we will, as an international community, risk stasis on dealing with so many different global issues. So, I think it's important to sort of look at the kind of cultural anti-Americanism that's been with us for some time, and understand that at the end of the day, it's maybe not so consequential.

The broader dynamic that's unfolding now is that it's not only a question of American policies that have been alienating, nor a particular president in this particular White House, but some deeper dynamics that I think, together with those policies and with the politics of this White House, have really created a great, a sort of visceral reflex to not to want to participate with the United States on the international playing field.

CONAN: Which, we have 30 seconds left in this segment, but broadly, you describe as power and powerlessness, humiliation. And really, you trace a lot of this, or see early examples of this in Latin America.

Dr. SWEIG: Yes I do. Latin America, of course, is the place where in the early 20th century that that's the home of gunboat diplomacy, where the United States intervened repeatedly to remake countries, to deal with a country's debt crisis, to prevent somebody that was a little bit to autonomous from taking power, for different pretext.

And throughout the century, the United States imposed its version of the proper and right way, if you will, upon Latin America. Latin Americans, in some cases, welcomed this, and some cases didn't. There was a great deal of ambivalence. But the imposition of American power is something that now, outside of the hemisphere, others are experiencing.

CONAN: We'll have more with Julia Sweig on her new book about Anti-Americanism--and indeed, the anti-American century--and take your calls; 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking today with Julia Sweig. She's the author of Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemy's in the Anti-American Century. If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is And let's get some listeners involved in the conversation. This is Kevin. Kevin's on the line with us from Harrisonville in Missouri.

KEVIN (Caller): Yeah, thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

KEVIN: My comment is that, you know, in this particular time of the world, we're looking at military necessity. You know, the country has had to defend itself, and there are some very famous people in the past who say that nations, unfortunately, are rarely always just when they're strong, and they're rarely strong when their always just. I think its shortsighted to think that this will not pass, that our influence around the globe will not return, and that we won't see this as a great catharsis of foreign policy.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

KEVIN: And, unfortunately, it's a bad pill that we have to swallow. That's my comment.

CONAN: Okay, thanks for very much for that, Kevin, Julia Sweig.

Dr. SWEIG: Kevin, I think you're correct that the use of force is sometimes necessary. And I don't think that the use of force in and of itself, especially in Iraq, is the only thing that got us into this mess. We will have to do it again. And my concern is that when we take on an unpopular intervention in self-defense, even in preemptive self-defense, that precisely because we're the biggest guy on the block, we do it in a way that is respectful of the international law and the multilateral institutions that, over the last 50 years, have given the United Stats an enormous amount of credibility and legitimacy, even when we did sort of jump out briefly in other periods, outside of those institutions.

So I think there's a way to be who we are and defend ourselves without upsetting the apple cart as dramatically as we have in this recent period.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. But Kevin's point, to some degree, they're, as you mentioned, there have been outbursts of anti-Americanism, even in the American century--during Vietnam, for example, Euro missiles. And, to some degree, these things seem to be cyclical.

Dr. SWEIG: Sure, they do, and I hope that this is cyclical. But there is something different about this particular moment. In the 20th century, that was the Cold War. There was an alternative, it was a negative one. It was the Soviet Union. Right now the Untied States is the single superpower, and until China--and I don't think it will be the European Union--but until China, let's say, gets to have the stature internationally that we do, the United States will absorb the animus, the resentment, deserved or not, around the globe.

So I think it behooves us to be careful about the way we deploy our power, as long as we are the ones seen as the antidote to so many problems around the world.

CONAN: Let's talk now with Michael, Michael calling from San Francisco.

MICHAEL (Caller): First comment, I'd like to first thank you for letting me call in…

CONAN: Sure.

MICHAEL: …I enjoy this program. But specifically, I would question our longterm interest to vie foreign policy and interventions around popular opinion. Because, while we live in an environment where, with the number of registered nations, there is absolutely no way we can do any policy on a global basis and appease and please everyone.

Having said that, what we need to do--our current tactic toward foreign intervention--is around a lot of self-interest and very specifically, tactical self-interest. And the author said earlier, and I agree with this, we should be taking a longer view and taking a view that's consistent with what we believe to be our core values. And I don't believe we're doing that at this particular juncture.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Julia Sweig, let me say, you do talk about, you know, some of the long-term impacts of some of today's policies that, if for example, in a number of decades, the United States can claim to have undercut substantially the recruitment financing proliferation and operational capacity of al-Qaida and other terrorist networks. If Iraq becomes a stable, relatively peaceful, somewhat democratic country, if Iran and North Korea's nuclear ambitions are successfully contained, this current episode of anti-Americanism might well be regarded in the future as a manageable price to have paid for U.S. and international security.

Dr. SWEIG: That, I think that's true. It's an unknown end of this, we don't know how this all will unfold.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SWEIG: I wanted to write this book because I wanted to get us talking about what happens when we misperceive how others sense our power. Because in the end, what this is really about is a disconnect, where the United States just has not had its ear to the ground, I think, in terms of how our power is viewed by those on the other side of it. We have assumed that our interests necessarily concur with the interests of others around the world, how they define their interests. And I think it's time to just add some nuance back into our consideration.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SWEIG: And so, I concur with the caller that this is not about being liked. It never has been about being liked. But I think we've gotten to the other side where, at this point, we need to try to right the, right the ship a bit.

CONAN: Thank you very much for the call, Michael. One of the examples that you give to illustrate that is the reception--not just in Latin America, but around the world--to Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, who's, in some ways, not the most attractive of politicians in many ways, yet is now seen as a symbol of anti-Americanism.

Dr. SWEIG: Yes, and if I can tell you very briefly an anecdote to lie this out. He has become a symbol of anti-Americanism, and just four years ago was not at all. And I'll tell you, when I ask somebody who had spent four years working in an American intelligence service on the ground, during the first four years of his rise, tell me about the Cuban access and penetration of Venezuela, the answer was, we have no access to the 80 percent of Venezuelans that live in poverty, whom the Cubans are dealing with.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SWEIG: The point is, is that we as a country became so out of touch with what makes people tick on the ground. In a country like Venezuela, a very close ally, that by the time, four years later, after we appeared to support a coup there and the rhetorical conflict has gotten escalated, Chavez has been able to use his anti-American stance to build his credibility in places where he had no profile before. And he has taken advantage of this to be sure, but it's also come as a result of the United States just not having its ear to the ground.

CONAN: And the result, not just in Venezuela, but you say throughout Latin America, is that anti-Americanism is now the default position of almost everybody.

Dr. SWEIG: It has become the default position, and it's not just because of old-fashioned power politics, it also has to do with what's happened in Latin America regarding globalization. Inequality and poverty are worse than they were 10 years ago. And globalization in that region is associated very much as Americanization, as a recipe that the United States, after the Cold War, took and said, look, this is your ticket to prosperity--having advocated it as a government and as a private sector, and now seeing that people's lives are plainly worse off, both elites--new elites, old elites, Chavez types and the old elites--have been able to take this and turn it on us. And we suffer the consequences as a result.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Pete--Pete calling us from Miami, Florida.

PETE (Caller): Yeah, hi, you said it was cyclical, the cycle I see is that, I think there's a large degree of partisanship here. During the Cold War, you know, everybody complained, or the last I heard, complained about, oh, even when Reagan went to Germany and said, tear down this wall, oh, he was war mongering. But when Clinton went into Bosnia, (unintelligible) complaints that there weren't any U.N. resolutions, our allies weren't with us at that time.

And now that Bush is back again being president. You know, you kinda gotta wonder who your friends are, and why do you care what they think. We find out through Food for Oil program that, you know, France was on the take on that deal. And so, why do we care what they think about us?

CONAN: Mm-hmm. One factual correction, of course, you're right, Bosnia was not, or Kosovo was not authorized by the Untied Nations Security Council. It was, however, a NATO operation, and, of course, that includes a lot of American Allies, but Julia Sweig.

PETE: Fine, but we kept hearing about how we need more U.N. resolution to go into Iraq.

CONAN: Go ahead.

Dr. SWEIG: Look, you know, I think that we are very, this is very much bipartisan creation, and although this president and this war have the effect of stripping back a band-aid that had covered these seething resentments for some time, I do think that it is Democrats and Republicans, Independents, we as a nation that need to worry about this. I just got done talking about the dynamics of globalization. In the 1990s, it was the Clinton Administration that embraced the ideas of globalization, and they that did to that such excess, and we're now dealing with the consequences of that.

So I really do think it's something that we as a nation need to worry about, not one party or the other.

CONAN: Pete, thanks very much. Let's turn now to Barbara. Barbara's with us form Nevada City, in California.

BARBARA (Caller): Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

BARBARA: I just think that, basically, our recipe for progress is something that comes with a heavy consequence. And I think that we think that we can superimpose this recipe, and I think that we're out of touch with people that we don't really know. We don't really know some of these cultures. We don't understand or take into consideration their values and what they may feel is important to them. And this is reminiscent for me of John Perkins' book Confessions of an Economic Hitman.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SWEIG: You're the second person, Barbara, who's raised the Perkins book with me in talking about my book. And I have to say that, the difference is that Perkins paints a picture in which he says that going out there and getting all these Latin American countries to be addicted to debt and as a way to gain control over them was an explicit intention of the United States, some sort of diabolical intention. I think a lot of what we're dealing with right now is actually unintended consequences of being out of touch, of not having our ear to the ground, of misjudging the impact of our power, but not necessarily a giant conspiracy to create dependency of the kind that Perkins depicts.

BARBARA (Caller): Well, I guess, the problem would be, I would see, is that if it was done over and over again, I guess that's where probably conspiracy…

Dr. SWEIG: Well, we do need to learn some lessons from…

BARBARA: If it doesn't work, as you said earlier, that many of these countries then do not progress, but end up in more poverty than where they began.

Dr. SWEIG: You know, there's a really critical point that I don't want to be missed, and that is that although I have talked a lot about what the United States has and has not done, it's also the case that there are certain things the United States cannot be responsible for nor can be held responsible for. And in Latin America, especially, the elites in these societies, those that do have the wealth, because Latin America is not a poor region, it's just a very unequal region, they do have some responsibility to implement something that I call a social contract. A social contract which means investing in their own people. And that's not something that we can export. So I do think it's important to distinguish between where the United States can be responsible for something and where it frankly can't be.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Barbara.

I want to talk about prescriptions, as well, because you do have some ideas about how you think America can change, or at least soften this anti-Americanism around the world. One of them beginning with accountability.

Dr. SWEIG: Yes. I feel very strongly, and this was raised for me by the incident at Abu Ghraib, that it's the case that Donald Rumsfeld has I think offered his resignation, I think, a couple of times to the president of the United States, and that has not been accepted. I worry very much that the incidents of torture and abuse in Abu Ghraib and Bagram and Guantanamo are--those that are taking responsibility are at a very low level in the chain of command, and I think that accountability, not just on the matter of chucking the Geneva Conventions, but also on the matter of faking the WMD intelligence, would send a signal that we can actually learn from our mistakes, and as a country exercise some sort of responsibility. That would be important.

CONAN: We're talking today with Julia Sweig, who works at the Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Her new book is Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

CONAN: And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Joel. Joel is with us from Carlsbad, California.

JOEL (Caller): Yes. My comment is that I kind of think that it's ridiculous, the attitude that a lot of people have, treating America like we're some sorority girl trying to win class president. Why is it so important that every country, with our foreign policy, goes along with our foreign policy? Our foreign policy should be built upon our interests, the population's interest. And if it ruffles France's Flowers then that's tough. I mean, basically, as a world power, we're pretty generous compared to all the other world powers throughout history that try to take over the world. We don't do that. We could take over the world, but we don't have any interest in doing that.

Dr. SWEIG: Joel, you know, I think that if our foreign policies of the recent period were actually foreign policies that made sense for us as a country, that would be entirely true, number one. Number two, I think countries like France and countries like Mexico, which have longstanding anti-American blood coursing through their veins, are not really our concern. That's the kind of anti-Americanism that, you're absolutely right, we're not going to be able to change that. But since we are the big super power, and since we do have so many interests around the world, I think we'd better be darn careful that as we go about figuring out how to meet those interests, we do it in a way that protects us and that secures for us the options of having friends and allies. And I think those options have been reduced by virtue of recent policies.

JOEL: Well, to me, it seems like they get upset when our policies affect their countries in a negative way…

CONAN: Affect their interests.

JOEL: Well, yeah, their own self-interests.

Dr. SWEIG: And that would be logical.

JOEL: They're worried about their own self-interests; we should be worried about our own self-interests. And we, I believe, have a very good moral compass. I think that if something goes drastically wrong in this world, the American people will stand up against it. Unlike with other countries, such as France or Germany or England, when they were the world powers, their governments basically ran over any country that didn't agree with them.

CONAN: Joel, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

JOEL: Uh-huh.

CONAN: Here's an email question from Steve Scott in Portland, Oregon. “How much of a factor is satellite news and the internet in grassroots awareness of issues and problems of American foreign policy in other countries? Does the author feel that these are, in general, biased or accurate representations?”

Dr. SWEIG: Well, there is such an enormous and varied universe out there on satellite and on the web. Depictions of the United States are caricature, prejudice, racist, distortion ranging from that to pretty serious investigative journalism from all around the world. And one element, I think, that has heightened the exposure the United States now faces is precisely technology. This is a world that is connected, and it's very hard to hide. It's a world that is increasingly democratic.

So what the United States does and does not do is out there for the world to see. And it's not possible let's say for us to control our own message any longer. This gets into issues of public diplomacy and what that can possibly achieve in an environment like that. But I do think that the proliferation of imagery and reporting from around the world does complicate the environment for the United States.

CONAN: We began with an excerpt from a speech by Tony Blair. Another quote from him, we just have a few seconds left. “The danger with America today is not that they are too much involved; the danger is that they decide to pull up the drawbridge and disengage. We need them involved,” Mr. Blair said. “We want them engaged.”

Dr. SWEIG: Well, he's right about that. And there's something out there in the body politic now that was not so strong when I started writing this book, and we saw it over the Dubai Ports issue and we see it now in the immigration debate. The American public feels vulnerable and increasingly insular: Vulnerable on the security front, but also in terms of how globalization is affecting their ability to build a solid and strong nest egg for themselves at home. And that vulnerability does, I think, threaten the kind of insularity and withdrawal and isolationism that Tony Blair is worried about. And I'm not arguing that the United States should roll back its drawbridge, but I do think that there is a concern about what we have to do to stay an open society and engage in the world. That's what's at risk.

CONAN: Julia Sweig's new book is Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the anti-American century. Thanks, very much, for being with us.

Dr. SWEIG: Thanks so much, Neil.

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