Crisis In Syria: National Security Adviser Susan Rice Makes Her Case

Susan Rice: "We have the undeniable proof that chemical weapons have already been unleashed."
3:00 | 09/09/13

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Transcript for Crisis In Syria: National Security Adviser Susan Rice Makes Her Case
This is a special report from -- soon. Look when I'm down Cutler -- New York with this ABC news digital special report first it was secretary of state John Kerry in London and we are all waiting for Diane Sawyer interview with President Obama tonight. But right now National Security Council chief Susan Rice as any in addressing your job the latest push by White House for a military strike in Syria let's listen in. And -- I want to thank you. For your principled leadership both in government where we work together so closely. And now at the New America Foundation. And I want to commend you and your colleagues here for the many contributions you make to our national security discourse. Including on the challenge that brings us together today. In response. To Bashar -- son's -- -- use of chemical weapons. Against the Syrian people. President Obama. After careful consideration. Has decided that it is in the national security interest. Of the United States. To conduct limited. Military strikes against the Syrian regime. President Obama has asked congress for its support in this action. Because in a democracy. Our policies are stronger. More effective. And more sustainable. When they have the support of the American people. And their elected leaders. Tomorrow evening. The president will address the nation and make his case for taking action. Today I want to take this opportunity. To explain why Syria's use of chemical weapons. Is a serious threat to our national security. And why it is in our national interest. To undertake limited military action. To deter future use. There's no denying what happened. On August 21. Around 2:30 in the morning. While most of Damascus. Was still mostly. I -- forces loaded warheads. Filled with deadly chemicals. -- rockets. And launch them. In -- suburbs. Controlled or contested. By opposition forces. They unleashed hellish chaos and terror. On a massive scale. Innocent civilians were jolted awake. Choking on poison. Some never woke up at all. In the end more than 14100. Were dead. More than 400. Of them children. In recent days we've been shocked by the videos from go to and other neighborhoods near Damascus. As a parent. I cannot look at those pictures. Those little children. Laying on the ground. There eyes glassy. Their bodies twitching. And not think of my own two kids. I can only imagine the agony. Of those parents. In Damascus. Sarin. Is odorless. And colorless. So victims may not even know. They've been exposed. Until it's too late. -- targets the body's central nervous system. Making every breath a struggle. And causing foaming. At the nose and -- Intense nausea. And uncontrollable. Convulsions. The death of any innocent. In Syria. Or around the world. Is a tragedy. -- by bullet. Or land -- Or poisonous gas. But chemical weapons. Are difference. They are wholly. Indiscriminate. Gas plumes shipped. And spread without warning. The masses of people they can sell. Apartments. The torturous death they bring. Is unconscionable. Chemical weapons. Like other weapons of mass destruction. Kill on -- scope and scale. It is entirely different from conventional weapons. Opening the door to their use anywhere. Threatens US. The United States and our personnel. Everywhere. There's no doubt. About who was responsible for this attack. The Syrian regime possesses. One of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world. Aside has been struggling to clear these very neighborhoods in Damascus. And drive out the opposition. But is conventional arsenal. Was not working well enough. Or fast enough. Only the Syrian regime has the capacity. To deliver chemical weapons on a scale. To cause the devastation. We saw in Damascus. The opposition does not. The rockets were fired from territory controlled by the regime. The rockets landed. In territory controlled or contested. By the opposition. And the intelligence we've gathered reveals senior officials. Planning the attack. And then afterwards. Plotting to cover up the evidence. By destroying. The area with shelling. Of course. This is not the first time that -- his use chemical weapons. In this conflict. We -- that he's used them on a small scale. Multiple times since March. But August 21. Was very different. Whereas previous attacks each killed relatively few people. This one murdered. Well over -- thousand. In one fell swoop. -- side is lowering his threshold for use. While increasing exponentially. The lethality. Of his attacks. Besides escalating use of chemical weapons. Threatens the national security. Of the United States. And the likelihood that left unchecked. A son will continue to use these weapons again and again. Takes the Syrian conflict. To an entirely different level. -- terrorizing civilians. Creating even greater refugee flows. And raising the risk that deadly chemicals. Would spill across borders. Into neighboring Turkey Jordan. -- on an Iraq. -- obviously the use of chemical weapons also. Directly threatens our closest ally in the region Israel. Where people once again had readied gas masks. Every time chemical weapons are moved. Unloaded. And used on the battlefield. It raises the likelihood that these weapons will fall into the hands. Of terrorists. Active in serious. Including -- sides allied Hezbollah. And al-Qaeda affiliates. That prospect. Puts Americans at risk of chemical attacks. Targeted at our soldiers. And diplomats in the region. And even potentially. Our citizens at home. Equally every attack Serbs to unravel. The long established commitment of nations. To renounce chemical weapons use. 189. Countries. Representing 98%. Of the world's population. Our party. To the chemical weapons convention. Which prohibits. The development. Acquisition. Or use of these weapons. The United States senate approved that convention. By an overwhelming bipartisan. Majority. Binding America to the global consensus. And affirming that we do not tolerate the use or possession. Of chemical weapons. -- -- regime's attack. Is not only a direct affront to that norm. But also a threat to global security. Including the security of the United States. Failing to respond to this outrage. Also threatens our national security. Failing to respond. Means more and more Syrians will die from -- spores in the stockpiles. Failing to respond. Makes our allies and partners in the region tempting targets. -- besides future attacks. Failing to respond increases the risk of violence and instability. As citizens across the Middle East and North Africa. Continue to struggle. For their universal rights. Failing to respond. Brings us closer to the day when terrorists might gain -- used chemical weapons. Against Americans. Abroad. And at home. Failing to respond. Damages international. The international principle. Reflected in two multilateral treaties. And basic human decency. That such weapons must never again. Be used anywhere. In the world. Failing to respond to the use of chemical weapons. Risks opening the door to other weapons of mass destruction. And -- inning the mad men who would use them. We cannot. Allow terrorists. Bent on destruction. Or a nuclear North Korea. Or. An aspiring nuclear Iran. To believe for one minute. That we are shying away from our determination. To back up our longstanding. Warnings. If we begin to erode the moral outrage. Of gassing children in their bed. We open ourselves up to even more fearsome consequences. Moreover. Failing to respond. To this brazen attack. Could indicate that the United States is not prepared to use the full range of tools necessary. To keep our nation secure. Any president. Republican. Or Democrat. Must have recourse to all elements of American power. To design and implement our national security policy. -- diplomatic. Economic. Or military. Rejecting the limited military action. The President Obama strongly supports. Would raise questions around the world. As to whether the United States is truly prepared. To employ the full range of its power. To defend our national interests. America's ability to rally coalitions. And lead internationally. Could be undermined. Other global hot spots might flare up. It belligerence believe the United States. Cannot be counted on to enforce the most basic and widely accepted. International norms. Most disturbingly. It would send a perverse message. To those who seek to use the world's worst weapons. That you can use these weapons blatantly. And just get away. Now I know. That many Americans. Are horrified by the images from Damascus. And are concerned. About the devastating broader consequences. But while they believed the world should act. They are not sure military action is the right tool. At this time. Let me address. This important argument. The reason President Obama. Decided to pursue limited strikes. Is that we and others have already exhausted a host of other measures. Aimed at changing -- calculus. And his willingness to use chemical weapons. As the August 21 mass casualty attack makes clear. These efforts have not succeeded. Since the beginning of the regime's brutal violence. Against its own people. More than two and a half years ago. We have consistently backed United Nations diplomatic process. And urged the parties to the negotiating table. Fully cognizant. That a political solution. Is the best way to end the civil conflict. And the Syrian regime's torment. Of its own people. We collaborated with our European allies to impose robust comprehensive sanctions. To pressure the -- side reaching. We supported the creation of united nations commission of inquiry to document atrocities. And deter perpetrators. In Syria. When -- started using chemical weapons on a small scale multiple times. We publicize compelling evidence of the regime's use sharing it with congress. The United Nations. And the American public. At -- urging over months Russia and Iran repeatedly reinforced. Our warnings to -- For the last year we admonished Syria directly. We -- -- the same message again and again. Don't do it. But they did it. First on a small scale. In a -- hard for the world to discern. In response we are augmented our nonlethal assistance to the civilian opposition. And expanded the nature and scope. Of our support to the supreme military council. We pressed for more than six months to gain the United Nations investigation team unfettered access to Syria. On the logic that the presence of such a team in the country. Might deter future attacks. Or it's not. At a minimum. It could establish a shared evidentiary base. That might finally compel Russia and Iran. Itself a victim of Saddam Hussein's -- chemical weapons attacks in 1987. And 1988. To pull the plug on a regime. That gases. Its own people. But then. When UN investigators. Finally entered the country. The regime launched the largest chemical weapons attack in a quarter century. While the inspectors staged. On the other side of town. For five days there after. The regime stalled and -- the affected areas. To destroy critical evidence. So only after pursuing. A wide range of nonmilitary measures. To prevent and halt chemical weapons use. Did President Obama conclude. That a limited military strike. Is the right way to deter aside. From continuing to employ chemical weapons like any conventional weapon of war. The fact is President Obama has consistently demonstrated. His commitment. To multilateral diplomacy. He would much prefer the backing. Of the united nations Security Council. To uphold the international ban against the use of chemical weapons. Whether in the form of sanctions. Accountability. -- authorizing. The use of force. But let's be realistic. It's just not going to happen now. Believe me. I know when I was there for all of those UN debates and negotiations. On Syria. I lived it. And it was shameful. Three times the Security Council took up resolutions. To condemn lesser violence. By the Syrian regime. Three times we negotiated for weeks over the most water down language. Imaginable. And three times Russia and China double vetoed. Almost meaningless resolutions. Similarly. In the past two months. Russia has blocked two resolutions. Condemning the use of chemical weapons that -- not even ascribe blame. To any party. Russia opposed to mere press statements. Expressing concern. About their use. A week after the August 21 gas attack. The United Kingdom presented a resolution. That included a referral of war crimes and Syria to the international criminal court. But again the Russians opposed. As they had every form of accountability. In Syria. For all these reasons. The president has concluded. That it is in our national security interest to conduct limited strikes. Against the aside regime. I want to take this opportunity. To address concerns now. That even limited strikes. Could lead to even greater risk to the United States. So let me describe as plainly. As I can. What this action would be. And just as importantly. What it would not be. The president has been clear about our purpose. These would be limited strikes. To deter. The Syrian regime from using chemical weapons. And to degrade their ability to do so again. What do we mean by -- This would not be the United States. Launching. Another war. As a president has said repeatedly. This would not be Iraq. Or Afghanistan. There will be no American boots on the ground. Period. Nor would resemble Kosovo. Or Libya. Which were sustained. Air campaigns. This will not be an open ended effort. As the president has said. Again repeatedly. This action would be deliberately limited in both time and scope. Nor would this -- -- The United States has engaged in limited strikes multiple times before. The call President Reagan conducted airstrikes measured in hours against Libya in 1986. President Clinton conducted several days of cruise missile strikes against Iraq in 1998. No to military actions. Are identical. Each has its own costs. And benefits. But these previous engagements are proof. That the United States is fully capable of conducting limited defined and proportional military actions. With out getting enmeshed in a drawn out conflict. What do we mean by deterring and degrading the regime's chemical weapons capabilities. Strikes could target range of potential -- capacities. To manage deliver or develop chemical weapons. -- would discover. That henceforth. Chemical weapons offered no battlefield. Advantage. Relative to their cost to use. And it was -- is so brazen as to use chemical weapons again. He would know. That we possess the ability. To further degrade his capabilities. So in short. This would not be an open ended intervention. In the Syrian civil war. These strikes would not aimed to topple Assad. Or by themselves to effect regime change. Doing so would require a much larger and sustained military campaign. Putting American forces in the center of this civil conflict. And as President Obama has made clear. It is neither wise nor necessary. To do -- Like many. I understand the public skepticism. Over using military force. Particularly. In this part of the world. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had left many Americans wary. Of further military action. However limited. But what the president is proposing. Is fundamentally. Different. Unlike Iraq where not betting on the existence of weapons of mass destruction. In Syria we have the undeniable proof. That chemical weapons have already been unleashed. With horrific results. The entire world. Can -- the bodies. True there are always risks that a company the use of military force. That is why we're taking a range of responsible measures to safeguard US personnel. And interests in the region. As well as those of our allies and partners. In this a -- We do not assessed that limited military strikes. Will unleash. A spiral of unintended. At -- at -- reactions. In the region. A son -- his allies would be more than foolish. To take on the forces of the United States. Or our allies. They know. That President Obama. Throughout his presidency. Has amply demonstrated. He will not hesitate. To defend our nation our citizens. And our allies against direct threats to our security. The limited strikes. That the president plans. Are necessary. And appropriate. Which is why they have garnered support. On both sides of the political -- House and senate leaders have declared their full support. Foreign policy experts from the left right and center. Have strongly endorsed such action. There aren't many nonpartisan issues left in Washington. This is one. Or at least it should be. President Obama has asked congress for their support. As -- elected representatives. Of the American people. Because he knows that investing the legislative branch. In our policy choices. Helps ensure the maximum potency. And sustainability. Of US policy. This decision. Reflects the president's profound respect. For the power of our democracy. And his belief. That the American people. -- to defend our most basic values. And live -- to our leadership in the world. And he knows. Like all Americans. That we are strongest in the world when we speak clearly. And stand together. At the same time. The international community. Increasingly recognizes. That this chemical weapons attack. Cannot be ignored. The Arab League foreign ministers have called for quote deterrent. And necessary measures. The organization doubled Islamic cooperation. Has said the regime's attack quote requires. A decisive action. The NATO counsel has met twice. And Secretary General Rasmussen. Has a -- that the allies agree on the need for a quote -- -- international response. To avoid chemical weapons attacks. In the future. Last Friday. At the G-20 eight in Saint Petersburg. There was unanimous agreement the chemical weapons had been used and that the international norm against their use must be upheld. -- -- unequivocal public support. For anticipated US military action. From partners in Europe Asia. And the Middle East. Australia. Canada France. Italy Japan. South Korea Saudi Arabia Spain. Turkey. United Kingdom and the United States. Join together in a strong statement. Declaring that the Asad regime is responsible for the attack. And that quote those who perpetrated these crimes must be held accountable. In subsequent days Germany. Lithuania. Latvia. Hungary. Croatia. Estonia. Denmark. Romania and Qatar. Have signed on to that same statement. And we expect more countries to add their support. Over the weekend. European union high representative. Catherine Ashton. Issued a statement on behalf of the European Union labeling the August 21 attack. A blatant violation. Of international law a war crime and -- crime against humanity. And calling for a quote clear and strong response. To ensure there is no impunity. Every day. More and more nations are coming to the same conclusion. With all the attention given to the prospect. Of limited military strikes. Against Syrian regime targets. I want to underscore that such action is by no means the sum total of our policy toward Syria. On the contrary. Any such strikes would complement and reinforce. Our broader serious strategy. Which we continue to pursue with allies and partners. Are over arching goal is to end the underlying conflict. To a negotiated. Political transition. In which -- leaves power. The best way to achieve this. Is to keep the country and its institutions. Intact. But all parties have to be willing to negotiate. So ours is a multifaceted strategy. That puts pressure on the regime by isolating them and denying -- resources. Builds up the civilian and military opposition. And secures diplomatic agreement with other key countries. On the principles for transition. While assisting those who need immediate relief. Thanks to the generosity of the American people. We lead the humanitarian effort to save lives having provided the Syrian people. More than one billion dollars worth of food shelter medical assistance clean water. And relief supplies. In fact some of the medical supplies used to treat the victims. In -- attack came from the United States. We continued to upgrade. And increase. Our support. For moderate vetted elements of the Syrian opposition. In coordination with our international partners. We -- building the capacity of local councils. And helping civilian leaders to deliver essential services. To those in need. We're helping the opposition. Better serve the needs of the Syrian people. And we're expanding our assistance. To the supreme military council. To strengthen its cohesion. And its ability to defend against a repressive regime. They kills civilians. With a band. Limited strikes. That degrade -- capacity. To use chemical weapons. And -- to kill on a horrific scale with impunity. Can also shake his confidence. In the viability of his relentless pursuit. Of a military solution. But ultimately. The only sustainable way. To end the suffering in Syria. Is through a negotiated. Political solution. Starting with the creation. -- a representative transitional authority. That organizes elections. And meets the needs of the Syrian people. A cease fire and a political solution. Are also. As a practical matter the only way to eliminate completely. The Syrian chemical weapons threat. That's why we continue to increase pressure. On the Asad regime. To come to the table and negotiate. Notably. During our discussions in Saint Petersburg. We sensed more urgency. Among key players. To bring the parties to the negotiating table to jump start a political transition. The United States shares that sense of urgency. And our intention is to renew our push. For the UN sponsored Geneva process. Following any limited strikes. Just as limited strikes would complement our broader Syria policy. So -- -- they reinforce our broader Middle East strategy. The United States. Will not take sides. In sectarian. Struggles. We cannot and will not impose our will. On the democratic development of other nations. But as President Obama has made clear. We can and we will stand up for certain principles. In this pivotal region. We seek a Middle East. Where citizens can enjoy there universal rights. Live in dignity freedom. And prosperity. Choose their own leaders. And determine their own future. Free from fear. Violence. And intimidation. Standing up to the Syrian regime's -- -- use of chemical weapons. Will -- the most basic. Principles. That nations can not unleash the most the world's most horrific weapons. Against innocent civilians. Especially children. And failing to stand up to these weapons could -- the Arab Spring. Towards an ever darker. And more ominous turn. Rather we seek a Middle East where violent extremism. Terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Do not threaten our our allies partners. And Americans. We seek the stability of a region. That is vital to the energy that helps fuel. -- global economy. And so the full court press continues for the Obama administration with national security advisor Susan Rice speaking at the New America Foundation -- out White House's push for a military strike in Syria. Com and -- heard a news conference coming on the heels of secretary of state John Kerry. In London earlier today. I'm gonna bring in our senior national correspondent Jim problems -- -- on Washington DC following. The latest us news conference from the former ambassador and of -- secretary of State's conference. I'm Jim I wanted to ask you there was a bit of confusion this morning over secretary Kerry's comment that the US would call off air strikes if aside. Gave up his chemical weapons stockpile what exactly did the secretary say. Welcome EC said that there's the problem of course is that he's -- being said that from the State Department that he didn't really mean that. And it has in fact. Cause a lot book of buffalo round around this whole issue in fact there's been a Senator John McCain senator tweet saying that. Is saying some of the things that Senator Kerry said today. Important factor quite -- helpful. That the problem of course is that this is this is between here this is and -- remarks and relationship to another remarked it's the senator made. -- said that any strike would be unbelievably small. And that -- -- just Senator John McCain is unbelievably helpful and helpful. It puts here's what the situation is for the president right now. He's got to appeal to people like Senator John McCain in the -- moderate Republicans. Who want a strike but they want not a small strike they want a big strike they want something to change the battlefield. At the same time the president doesn't have support in his own party the Democrats. Who want to in order to vote for this what reassurance that this is gonna be -- a very small strike. Something a surgical -- and and is only in response to the use of chemical weapons -- they're trying to head to to appeal the two sides. And that's what's going on right now Susan Rice is trying to make the case. Two liberals today when she said just a few minutes ago that in fact. This. And use of chemical weapons is there is a threat to the United States something the president said -- G-20. In a news conference -- it was not. So there's a lot of mixed messages coming out of the Obama administration. That is a problem. What and Jeff -- I want to ask you just exactly exactly about that because if you look at the way that the White House in the about an illustration has been laying out its case. With various members whether it -- from the secretary of state whether it be from a former secretary of state Hillary Clinton is expected deliver some remarks -- -- short time from now. Does the White House have a concerted effort for each of these representatives hitting a different -- that they need to get support from or is -- essentially. Everyone on the same message just hoping to gather any kind of support they -- yet. You -- -- unfortunately. It gets some see it seems a little bit like throwing spaghetti against the law they're hoping something will stick they are in fact. Trying to appeal to everyone and it's a very difficult case to make. Because in one case as they say they're trying to appeal to Democrats. Liberals who don't want. To sign on to any kind of military action but recognize the United States may have to do something so they're telling them. And the American people over and over again which -- which apparently are against any kind of intervention the time them all over and over again. That this is not going to be a large strike. But at the same time to get Republican support. They have to tell those folks almost the exact opposite that whatever they do what I won't be a full out war boots on the ground it may change it may shake. Aside and in fact this Susan Rice just said. A few minutes ago. So that she hopes that that a limited strike would do two things that it would pay him back for the can use of chemical weapons it would at the same time shake his confidence. That that he -- can continue to win. A ground war a relentless war so. You know -- it is a very confusing message it's it's an attempt to. To appeal to many many people but it but it's the same time they try to appeal to many people -- the spectrum they. Don't appeal to those same people to the opposite people so. It's a very difficult situation there right now almost everyone agrees that the Obama administration is losing in the house and losing day. And and the president making his his case himself personally to the American people tomorrow night in a prime -- address. And then of course tonight he will be having full interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer. Jim I want to revisit that statement that the secretary of state had made earlier about the possibility that if in fact. The Asad regime had turned over its chemical weapons. It could potentially avert a strike as you pointed out the state department's trying to swat down that statement but Russia picked up on that in fact they delivered that message. To the Asad regime and Syrians saying in fact that they would be willing to give their weapons over to international control is this real option. Well and we got to be careful and to get ahead of ourselves on that but it is it is a middle ground. That has been proposed by some in congress even. But here's the issue. Syria as you say has the sort of into a -- it's -- its willingness to accept. Turning over its. Its chemical well -- warfare. Weapons. To the United Nations in some fashion at the behest and Russia would Russia has said that they should. The with a series of -- is in order to protect our own people were willing to add to do that. Here's the problem. And in what's been pointed out by many including -- Are our senior foreign correspondent Terry Moran who points out that is soon -- that that is probably an initial thing but which you'd expect to hear very soon. From the Syrians and others in the mideast. In the the Arabs -- in the Arab world especially. Is okay will do that if Israel does that. If Israel turns over its nuclear weapons. And it will turn over our chemical weapons and then you go right back to square one then you go right back. To -- to the debate society and nothing gets done about the use of chemical weapon sometime contrived grand bargain apparently almost. This -- seem to be. Joseph wanted to ask you a little bit about what we expect to hear -- from a former secretary of state Hillary Clinton is expected to deliver her remarks are just a short time last week her office had put out a statement supporting. President Obama's initiative for military action in Syria but. What is she going to be offered -- bring to the table that the Obama administration is really going to be looking to me. Plus is a strong voice of course the former secretary of state she also holds a lot of us way. Winds. Moderate to -- liberal Democrats and you know when you look at this. Right now the way it's shaping up in congress. Who Republicans at this point even though many of them -- against it as well. It does appear as though there's more support among Republicans so the Democrats. President Obama. Is looking for help. From Senator John Kerry. From from the current secretary of state from the former secretaries sectors and Hillary Clinton. And added voice a voice that may resonate with some people and in the United States that may be his does not. He's looking for -- this is a full court press -- ways he can get out there is going to be speaking Vice President Biden today. There's going to be holding. A couple of briefings for more on the senate and house inside the White House situation room. So everybody is getting in on the party. For the president will wind it up on tomorrow night with his big speech in the nation hoping that that his voice. The persuade -- in chief can get that done. So it's a huge job it's winning described as -- heavy lift their way behind in in the congress. They have a lot of work to do and in on the always going to be able to say. Then pull out all the stops and try because they're doing it and and certainly mean that the focus right now that from the White House is it a twofold equally balanced strategy. Of looking for domestic support and -- also obviously from the global community as we just heard. From my ambassador rice they're listing off the countries that had signed on to that statement that was put out of the White House condemning the use of chemical weapons. Is -- an equal heavy lift. Well I think right now the real focus is on congress and the American people. I think -- that -- during the G-20 there was some effort to get some allies on board and I think the effort to get allies on board right now this -- the state when you heard from. From the national security advisor Susan Rice about the number of this countries around the world -- which have signed on. Two. -- two condemning what happened in Syria is really an effort to. To shift some of -- the two. Gives some wait. To what they're saying for the American people they're trying to use that to say look it's not just us the world is with us they're trying to -- at him but right now the though the real focus. Is on getting this vote in congress the congress back today congress beginning to seriously. Look at how the vote this. The vote on this the American people tomorrow listening to the president of the American people showing in polls right now that they're not in favor of a strike. And the American people is not. Are not and so that the president is working on -- that's the main focus I think I don't think it's equal right now they heavy -- is domestically aren't ABC's Jim online.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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