Is Clinton’s Visit to Lebanon a Challange to Syria or just a pep rally?

Clinton on the stump in Lebanon

Clinton Campaigning for pro-US factions in Lebanon

Is Clinton’s Visit to Lebanon tantamount to throwing down the gauntlet? Is it a challenge to the Lebanese not to vote for March 8 and notice to Syria to help throw the elections in Hariri’s favor if it wants engagement, relief from sanctions, and help with Israel?

Clinton’s decision to campaign for anti-Syrian zaims in Lebanon does not mean that the US will not engage Syria in a meaningful way. Clinton’s visit to Lebanon, prompted one Syrian friend to write:

“Clinton has finally made her move, and how predictable it is? Forget it. They will never give Syria what it wants. The status quo is back. Obama is no different from any previous president.”

I don’t agree with this conclusion. If the pro-Syrian coalition wins the elections, Washington will have to find a way to finesse. Why would the US punish the Lebanese for their decision to elect a party that is pro-Iranian? Obama is different from Bush, who decided to punish the Palestinians for voting contrary to US interests.

Clinton has threatened that the US will cut off US aid to Lebanon – a warning to the Lebanese not to vote for March 8. But it the Lebanese defy the US and vote for March 8 anyway, the US can cut aid but continue to finesse the situation by allowing the French and British to step forward and engage the new Lebanese government. Britain has begun a direct dialogue with Hizbullah. France has stated that it can live with any outcome of the elections so long as powersharing is respected in the new government. Both Britain and France have made it clear that they are willing to accept Lebanon’s democratic results without a major tantrum if their prefered party doesn’t win.

The US manages to shut its eyes to Hizbullah’s presence in Lebanon’s government today. What is to stop it from doing this even if March 8 wins? Eye shutting will admittedly be harder to do if March 8 forms the next government; but March 8 has already made a number of suggestions about how pro-American elements can play a big role in any new government. This compromise could be used as a basis to assuage US anger and mollify any desire on the part of Washington to pick up its marbles and go home.

After all, if Obama uses a March 8 victory in Lebanon to join Israel in refusing to engage Syria in a meaningful way, he will make a mockery of his campaign promises to do something about Arab-Israeli peace. Syria can soft peddle its influence in Lebanon, but it will not abandon it. The notion that Syria will realign its regional alliances as a prerequisite for engaging the US is a non-starter. It is also hard to believe that Washington is insisting that Syria throw the Lebanonese elections to March 14 in order to gain US engagement.

Washington has only said that it does not want coercion or violence in the elections, which is fair enough. We have already read about the massive amount of money that is flowing into Lebanon to influence the elections – presumably to help America’s and Saudi Arabia’s allies win. It will be interesting to see if Clinton speaks out about this as well.

Syrian diplomates are being reasured that Obama means business on Arab-Israeli peace. They insist that administration figures are not speaking the old language of conditions, i.e. give up Hamas, Hizbullah, and influence in Lebanon in order to get engagement, a fair hearing on the Golan, and relief from sanctions. I guess we will have to wait and see if my anxious Syrian friends are reading too much into Clinton’s surprise visit to Lebanon in advance of the June 7 elections.

Syria’s Assad “Not Optimistic” About Talks With Israel-Report

VIENNA (AFP)–Syrian President Bashar al-Assad insisted on the return of the Golan Heights but said he could not foresee peace talks with Israel anytime soon, in an interview with an Austrian daily published Sunday.

“What counts in the end, is that there is occupied territory that must be returned to Syria, and then we can talk about peace,” Assad told the newspaper Die Presse, ahead of a visit to Austria Sunday.

“We do not make a peaceful solution dependent on the Israeli government. Governments in Israel come and go, whereas peace is a fixed goal that one must work towards consistently, even when there is no partner,” he said.

But he added: “I am not very optimistic about this government,” describing it as an “extreme, far-right government that does not support peace.”

Assad’s comments came as a split appeared Sunday within the Israeli government of hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu on possible peace negotiations with Syria.

After firebrand Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he could not see Syria as “a real partner for any type of agreement” in a newspaper interview Saturday, Defence Minister Ehud Barak told reporters that Tehran had an interest in holding talks with Damascus.

Clinton reassures Lebanon on overtures to Syria
The Associated Press

“There is nothing that we would do in any way that would undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty,” Clinton said. “I want to assure any Lebanese citizen that the United States will never make any deal with Syria that sells out Lebanon and the Lebanese people. You have been through too much and it is only right that you are given a chance to make your own decisions,” Clinton said.

“It’s a complicated neighborhood you live in and you have the right to your own future,” she added.

Hezbollah spokesman Ibrahim Mussawi said Clinton’s visit could have a negative impact on the pro-U.S. factions in the country. … But he added that American “interference in the past was never positive.” He also criticized what he termed a “double standard and deception” when the U.S. calls for Islamic factions to participate in elections and then refuses to accept the results if they win.

…U.S. officials have said they would review aid to Lebanon, including military assistance, depending on the composition of the new government.

Associated Press Thanks to FLC

“… While urging free and fair elections, the Obama administration is treading carefully. The Bush administration encouraged the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and then saw the radical Hamas movement win handily and badly damage efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Reflecting that concern, Clinton met during her brief stay with just one senior official, President Suleiman. U.S. officials say her meeting with Suleiman only is because the U.S. doesn’t want to be seen as taking sides in the elections. Suleiman is considered a consensus leader and neutral in the political struggle…” After the visit, Clinton, still hoping not to be seen as taking sides, visited the shrine of rafic hariri accompanied by his son….

April 26 (Bloomberg) — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he favors a resumption of peace talks with Syria, after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he opposed talks with Damascus if there were “pre-conditions.”

6 years in prison for airing Hezbollah TV in NYC, By LARRY NEUMEISTER

NEW YORK (AP) — A Pakistani immigrant described by prosecutors as “Hezbollah’s man in New York City” was sentenced Thursday to nearly six years in prison for airing the militant group’s television station. “He is a businessman and sought to provide services he thought would generate profits,” Dratel wrote.

Iqbal, who has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, will most likely be deported once he has completed his prison sentence, Dratel said. Iqbal, a former car mechanic, is married with five children and a sixth child due in July. Dratel called the airing of Al Manar “one discreet and narrow aspect” of an otherwise legitimate broadcasting company that also aired Christian programming, adult entertainment, a Jamaican channel and a gay and lesbian channel.

Iqbal, who has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, will most likely be deported once he has completed his prison sentence, Dratel said. Iqbal, a former car mechanic, is married with five children and a sixth child due in July.

Comments (20)


1. Sasa said:

Is the surprise visit her push to support March 14? Of course. She was asked who she was backing, and the reply came: “I’m not going to speculate on the outcome of the elections” BUT, she said, I want the forces of moderation to win.

She may as well have said I Love Life.

But just as elsewhere, American backing is the kiss of death. Hariri must be crying into his hummous tonight.

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April 26th, 2009, 5:37 pm

 

2. EHSANI2 said:

According to the NYT, Clinton’s flight from Kuwait to Beirut flew through Syrian airspace.

“Her aides insisted the flight path was chosen by her pilots and simply reflected the fastest route. But on trips during the Bush administration, the secretary of state often took circuitous routes to avoid flying over Syria”.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/27/world/middleeast/27diplo.html?hp

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April 26th, 2009, 7:34 pm

 

3. al said:

Prof. Landis’s remarks suggest that US foreign policy towards Lebanon is determined solely by the Executive Branch. However, the hundreds of millions of US aid dollars flowing to Lebanon (military and otherwise) are contingent upon Congressional approval. Frankly it is hard to imagine Congress providing military aid to a March 8 Lebanese government. The US media will portray future assistance as funding Hizbollah (we all know the level of discourse on cable news channels like Foxnews and MSNBC). Cutting off aid and military assistance threatens to make US foreign policy towards Lebanon empty rhetoric, even if it comes from so gifted an orator as the American President. I can recall attending a Congressional Hearing of the House Subcommittee on Near East and South Asian Affairs last summer that discussed the accession of Suleiman to the Presidency. Many members of the Subcommittee were skeptical of Suleiman’s loyalties and spared no effort to voice their support of Israel. If they were skeptical of Suleiman, we can only imagine how Congress will feel about a March 8 government.

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April 26th, 2009, 7:35 pm

 

4. norman said:

Sasa,

I agree with you , her support to March 14 might insure the win of March 8 ,

About the insistence on Hariri investigation is actually good in my opinion as when the investigation exonerates Syria, it would be more credible,

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April 26th, 2009, 7:53 pm

 

5. majedkhaldoun said:

Mitchel avoided Syria, Clinton avoided Syria, Obama invited Mubarak and abdullah of jordan and of KSA,but not syria,and he visited Urdogan of Turkey, I do not think, american policy has changed toward Syria,at least till Obama meets Neten.

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April 26th, 2009, 8:52 pm

 

6. norman said:

It does look that there is going to be peace without force,

Print | Close this window

Israel rejects Syria preconditions for peace talks
Sun Apr 26, 2009 3:28am EDT
JERUSALEM, April 26 (Reuters) – Israel’s new government would talk peace with Syria if it dropped preconditions such as an Israeli commitment to return the Golan Heights, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday.

“I would be happy to hold negotiations with Syria this very evening, but without preconditions and without ultimatums,” Lieberman told Israel Radio. Lieberman, an ultranationalist coalition partner to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the less than month-old government was still formulating foreign policy but made clear he saw Syria’s bedrock demand for the Golan as up for debate.

This is not the view from Damascus, which says Israel, which annexed the Golan in a move not recognised abroad, is legally required to return it along with other occupied Arab land. “Each of the sides has a position. Syria may want sovereignty on the Golan Heights, while we ask for a 200-year lease on the Golan Heights,” Lieberman said.

“They can demand the Golan Heights in exchange for peace, while we will demand peace for peace,” he added, criticising Syria for “setting an ultimatum” by hinting, on occasion, that it could resort to force to retake the strategic plateau. Netanyahu’s centrist predecessor, Ehud Olmert, held indirect talks with Syria. Olmert had his own precondition for fuller engagement with Syria — that it distance itself from Iran, and Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas guerrillas.

Keen to find a diplomatic breakthrough in the Middle East and perhaps wary of a deadlocked Palestinian track, the Obama administration has spoken encouragingly about the prospect of Israeli-Syrian rapprochement.

Netanyahu is due to discuss strategy with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington next month. (Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Richard Williams)

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April 26th, 2009, 10:08 pm

 

7. Joshua said:

Dear AL,
Indeed, US policy toward Lebanon is determined by many different groups and institutions in the US. Many of them work through congress. I am parsing Clinton\’s words about cutting off aid, which the executive can do. You are right that if she didn’t do it, congress would do it. The pressures on congress and the executive will come from the same sources.

The question is whether the US executive’s Syria policy will depend on the outcome of the elections or merely the lack of violence during them. Or, whether it will await the formation of a government following the outcome.

Ostensibly, the Bush administration could not abide engagement with Syria because of Syria’s support for Hizbullah and Palestinian groups – terrorism. Obama’s policy on these issues is less clear. We are not sure what the benchmark for engagement is.

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April 26th, 2009, 10:18 pm

 

8. majid said:

King Abdullah II of Jordan says, after spending almost a week in the US, that only a determined US president will make the Palestinians and Israelis sit down and negotiate. He also makes note of the fact that the US has for the first time declared the two-state solution as a US national interest. Good will towards the US will evaporate if it fails to act.

However, the King also predicts that after Lebanon 2006 and Gaza 2008-2009 there will be another armed conflict in the next 18 months between Israel and another ‘party’. The King did not clarify which other party will be involved in this armed conflict. His prediction is qualified based on the assumption of the continuation of the status quo.

اعتبر العاهل الاردني الملك عبدالله الثاني الاحد انه لن يتحقق سلام في الشرق الاوسط من دون تدخل الرئيس
الاميركي باراك اوباما، ما دام الاسرائيليون والفلسطينيون “لن يصلوا الى نتيجة” بمفردهم.

وردا على سؤال لشبكة “ان بي سي” بعد لقائه اوباما في واشنطن الثلاثاء، في اول اجتماع مع مسؤول عربي منذ دخوله البيت الابيض، اكد عبدالله الثاني الحاجة الى “رئيس اميركي يتحلى بالتصميم ليجلس الاسرائيليون والفلسطينيون الى طاولة” المفاوضات.

واضاف “للمرة الاولى، يستطيع الاميركيون القول ان حل الدولتين يشكل جزءا من المصالح الحيوية للولايات المتحدة”.

واوضح العاهل الاردني انه ينتظر “اشارة” بعد الزيارة التي سيقوم بها رئيس الوزراء الاسرائيلي بنيامين نتانياهو لواشنطن الشهر المقبل، وقال “اذا لم تصدر، بعد هذه الزيارة، اشارة واضحة الى كيفية تدخل الولايات المتحدة في العملية، اعتقد ان النيات الطيبة حيال اميركا ستزول”.

واعتبر انه بعد لبنان وقطاع غزة، “سيندلع في الاشهر ال18 المقبلة نزاع اخر بين اسرائيل وفريق اخر في حال لم يتغير شيء”.

واضاف “اذا تركنا الاسرائيليين والفلسطينيين يتفاوضون بانفسهم فلن نصل الى نتيجة”.
المصدر : وكالات

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April 26th, 2009, 10:23 pm

 

9. Karim said:

http://arama.hurriyet.com.tr/arsivnews.aspx?id=11516115

ISTANBUL – Turkey will stage a joint military exercise with Syria and also will sign a memorandum of understanding on military cooperation with Kuwait, country’s General Staff said in two separate statements on Sunday.

The land forces of Turkey and Syria would perform a joint military exercise across the border on Monday, the General Staff said in one of the statements posted on its website.

The exercise aims to boost friendship, cooperation and confidence between Turkish and Syrian land forces, and to increase the capability of border troops to train and work together, it said

The military exercise, which will end on April 29, is the first one that the two countries’ land forces will stage.

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April 26th, 2009, 10:46 pm

 

10. Nur al-Cubicle said:

OMG! What if the Lebanese held a census!

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April 26th, 2009, 11:48 pm

 

11. Alex said:

Jihad Makdissi, spokesman for the Syrian embassy in London on BBC Arabic outlines Syria’s expectations from President Obama (Arabic)

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April 27th, 2009, 2:22 am

 

12. Qifa Nabki said:

Two points are relevant here:

1) U.S. military aid to Lebanon is brand spanking new. It only began flowing in a serious way a couple of years ago. Prior to that, the Lebanese Army rationed its bullets to the tune of 15 rounds a year, per soldier (i.e. just enough to shoot the odd rabbit while you’re freezing your ass off in some lonely checkpoint on the road to Kfardebian).

So, dropping the level of military aid is not going to drastically undermine our security services. My guess is that the Americans will keep sending money but channel it to the ISF, which has been come increasingly under the sway of Hariri.

2) The era of the M14/M8 rivalry is dead. The game has already begun to change (as we’ve seen with the Jumblatt bloopers, Nassib Lahoud’s resignation, and Hariri’s welcoming of Syrian arch-crony Michel el-Murr on his Metn list). Unless Hariri and/or AIPAC can persuade the Americans that there is a politically expedient reason to make life difficult for a M8 majority, I’m sure the Americans will be able to get their heads around it.

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April 27th, 2009, 7:07 am

 

13. SimoHurtta said:

Seems that Turkey is now fast taking the big brother role in the region. Turkey’s weapon sales to Lebanon and now the military drills Syria change the military and political balance. Turkey also made with Germany a co-operation deal with defence industry which includes also the UAVs Israel used (?) to deliver.
Turkey, Syria to forge defense industry cooperation

Israelis seem not to be happy with the development in which they have little or no influence.
Barak: Joint Turkey-Syria military drill ‘very troubling’ for Israel
Barak ‘disturbed’ by Syria-Turkey drill

Israel needs a politically unstable environment to keep up its “business idea”. Turkey needs a stable surrounding to develop. Turkey can force Israel to make peace by taking Israel’s “northern front” under its protection. Interesting to see how this develops. One thing is certain, for the “west” Turkey is more important than Israel.

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April 27th, 2009, 10:03 am

 

14. Shai said:

Simo,

“One thing is certain, for the “west” Turkey is more important than Israel.”

I think that’s a fair statement for just about any country on earth… But it’ll be interesting to see how Turkey and the U.S. discuss these strengthened alliances with Lebanon and Syria.

Btw, not all Israelis view this Turkey-Syria development as a bad or dangerous one. I, for instance, view this as an opportunity that will serve itself well in the future. It is for the same reason that I think Syria’s close relations with Iran are VERY much in Israel’s best interest. Most people do not play out a few moves ahead, they think only about yesterday and today. Those with foresight, could also see an opportunity here. I would give Obama huge credit, if these moves were already discussed on his last visit to Ankara… (I hope they were).

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April 27th, 2009, 2:29 pm

 

15. Shai said:

Simo,

Correction: I read the above as “For Turkey, the West is more important than Israel…” and hence my comment. But reading it now, I see you meant Turkey is more important for the West. I think that could be argued, depending on which nation in the West we’re talking about, and over what issues. Plus, if in polls taken, most people find Israel the number 1 or 2 biggest threat to world peace, I’d say Israel is “more important” to most, than Turkey… :-) But this isn’t a popularity test. I agree with you that Turkey is taking a very important leadership role in our region, and is certainly spending more time thinking ahead and establishing herself, than Israel.

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April 27th, 2009, 5:42 pm

 

16. Alex said:

Shai,

Jihad Makdissi’s tone in the BBC interview I linked above was quite interesting. He was advising Israelis to be open minded and to try harder to understand what is in their own best interest in the long run… that what Syria is doing is indeed good for Israel in the long run.

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April 27th, 2009, 8:44 pm

 

17. Alex said:

Syria’s Assad “Not Optimistic” About Talks With Israel-Report
2009-04-26 11:23:57.609 GMT

VIENNA (AFP)–Syrian President Bashar al-Assad insisted on the return of the Golan Heights but said he could not foresee peace talks with Israel anytime soon, in an interview with an Austrian daily published Sunday.

“What counts in the end, is that there is occupied territory that must be returned to Syria, and then we can talk about peace,” Assad told the newspaper Die Presse, ahead of a visit to Austria Sunday. “We do not make a peaceful solution dependent on the Israeli government. Governments in Israel come and go, whereas peace is a fixed goal that one must work towards consistently, even when there is no partner,” he said. But he added: “I am not very optimistic about this government,” describing it as an “extreme, far-right government that does not support peace.”

Assad’s comments came as a split appeared Sunday within the Israeli government of hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu on possible peace negotiations with Syria.

After firebrand Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he could not see Syria as “a real partner for any type of agreement” in a newspaper interview Saturday, Defence Minister Ehud Barak told reporters that Tehran had an interest in holding talks with Damascus.

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April 27th, 2009, 9:19 pm

 

18. Shai said:

Alex,

I swear I didn’t coordinate this with him… :-)

But I’m very glad to hear it. Syria is indeed enjoying a good cadre of experienced and influential diplomats. The PR-machine is starting to have its effects. Though for many in Israel this may seem, on the surface, a bad thing, I’m convinced it is good for us. The more support Syria gets worldwide, the more likely Israel is to make peace with her.

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April 28th, 2009, 3:58 am

 

19. norman said:

I think thre is a problem with SC HOME page.

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April 28th, 2009, 12:38 pm

 

20. Alex said:

Very interesting

Study: Ethnic identification on the wane, spirituality rising among Jews

http://jta.org/news/article/2009/03/31/1004139/ethnic-identification-on-the-wane-spirituality-rising-among-jews-study-finds

NEW YORK (JTA) — Younger Jews are more spiritually inclined than their forbears and are closing the “spiritual gap” between Jews and other religions, according to a new study from researchers at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

The $60,000 study, commissioned by the synagogue consultancy Synagogue 3000, also found that Orthodox Jews and Jews who have fewer than two Jewish parents score higher than other Jews on spirituality indexes.

Taken together, the researchers conclude that ethnic identification is on the wane for American Jews, replaced with identification through spirituality, and that this trend will have significant policy implications.

“Simply asking Jews about raising money to give money to Israel or Jewish causes and expecting they’ll do it just because they’re Jewish is yesterday’s thinking,” said Lawrence Hoffman, a professor at HUC who co-authored the report with the sociologist Steven Cohen. “Instead, they’ll have to see some transcendent purpose of the Jewish people.”

The notion of spirituality is an elusive one, the researchers concede, though they generally understand it to mean the quest for meaning, purpose and connectedness. Rather than identifying Jewishly through ethnic food or language, or through affiliation with communal institutions, younger Jews are increasingly seeking a sense of purpose. And if they don’t find it in Judaism, they are liable to start looking elsewhere.

“They’re interested in spiritual language, they’re interested in spirituality,” said Ron Wolfson, the president of Synagogue 3000. “They may not be finding it in their local congregation or when they go home. What we’re concerned about is how do we engage the spiritual and learning needs of this population in a creative, interesting way.”

In general, Jews lag non-Jewish white Americans on scores of spirituality, a discrepancy the study attributes in part to what it describes as the lack among Jews of a vocabulary to discuss such matters. The tendency in the Jewish community toward increased spirituality among the young also flies in the face of broader social trends, where spiritual inclination tends to increase with age.

But the data does jibe with a general sense that interest in spirituality is rising in the United States, unlike in Europe where the culture is more emphatically secular.

“The great forces of modernity — technology and democracy, choice and freedom — are all strengthening religion rather than undermining it,” write John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge in their new book “God is Back,” which mostly focuses on American Christianity.

In the Jewish world, increased spirituality manifests in the growing interest in Kabbalah and Jewish healing, and in the rise of organizations such as the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, which the study says “seems to have met with widespread success in recent years.”

Jack Wertheimer, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America who is cited in the study as being dismissive of the notion of rising spirituality, says he agrees with some of the report’s findings. But he is concerned about the implication that Jews are becoming more spirituality focused and divorced from ritual behavior and the parallel decline in identification with, and a sense of responsibility for, the Jewish people.

“I do think that synagogues and their religious leaders need to speak more in that kind of language,” Wertheimer said. “But at the same time, I don’t want that to come at the expense of the ethnic component, or what I would call Jewish peoplehood.

“We Jews have believed that these two components of our identity mesh with each other and strengthen each other. I would not want to see spirituality come at the expense of Jewish collective action. ”

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April 28th, 2009, 6:36 pm

 

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