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Al-Monitor’s Gursel Wins Award; Watch US House on Syria

Al-Monitor’s coverage of press freedom in Turkey, the US House of Representatives on Syria, and Iraq as possible mediator on Iran; Daoud Kuttab discusses the Middle East with Fareed Zakaria.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu before attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) security meetings in Bandar Seri Begawan July 2, 2013. REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool (BRUNEI - Tags: POLITICS) - RTX119IY

Press Freedom in Turkey

Kadri Gursel, a contributing writer for Al-Monitor and columnist for Milliyet, received the Press Freedom Award by the Journalists’ Association of Turkey (TGC) “in recognition of his efforts in the name of press freedom and freedom of expression over the past year, both in the national and international media.”

“Kadri’s reporting and analysis over the past year has been consistently bold, critical and accurate,” said Andrew Parasiliti, Al-Monitor's Editor and CEO, in a news release. “We are proud of his award, which is well-deserved.”

On June 26, Gursel testified on the “social explosion” taking place in Turkey and what it means for democracy before the US House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats.

Gursel wrote last week for Al-Monitor that “Turkish journalists have become victims of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hard-line reactions to the Gezi Park resistance that erupted as a societal explosion.”  

Yavuz Baydar told the story of his firing as ombudsman of Sabah. Baydar, who recently wrote about the press restrictions in Turkey in an op-ed for The New York Times, and who has recounted issues of press freedom in his columns for Al-Monitor, wrote:

“Censoring the articles of an ombudsman and then sacking the ombudsman is a first in the history of media self-supervision. Sabah also blocked access to all of the ombudsman’s past articles on its web site. The ombudsman position is likely to be abolished altogether. … For me and thousands of desperate colleagues, it was no more than a bitter reminder of the treatment accorded to our editorially paralyzed media and our debilitated profession.” 

Al-Monitor will continue to support independent, critical and diverse media in the Middle East in pursuit of its mission to provide world-class reporting and analysis to uncover trends as we cover the news in the region.  

McKeon, House Send Message on Syria Policy

US Rep. Buck McKeon, Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, in an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, expressed caution on deeper military US engagement in Syria, saying: “If the president came to the House asking for authority to go in Syria, I don’t think he could get the vote on either side of the aisle. These people understand America, and right now they don’t want another war.”

McKeon, who has represented California’s 25th District since 1993, said he believes the Obama administration’s decision to provide lethal support to the Syrian rebels is “too little, too late.” He also said, “The Armed Services committee would have some questions about how we were going to pay for it, and are we ready, and how many casualties are you willing to accept, and how far are you willing to go.”

He added:  “When we up the ante and Iran, Russia and others come in and up the ante further, are we going to pull back? What does that do to us? We’ve already suffered [the loss of] prestige around the world big time.”

McKeon’s perspective on Syria is consistent with many Democratic and Republican members of Congress, as well as with popular opposition to providing arms to Syrian rebel forces. A Gallup poll in June reported that 54% of Americans disapprove of direct US military aid to the rebels, and a Pew poll the same month found that 70% oppose such support.

McKeon’s committee oversees the Defense Department. The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2014 — which passed the House of Representatives on June 14 — includes a non-binding resolution on Syria that reads, in part, “Should the president decide to employ any military assets in Syria, the president should provide a supplemental budget request to Congress.”

Also, the House of Representatives unanimously passed an amendment to the House Department of Defense Appropriations bill introduced by US Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., which prevents the president from committing troops to Syria without first seeking congressional approval. The appropriations bill passed the House on July 24.

In other events, US Rep. Mike Rogers, Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said that his committee had agreed to allow US lethal support to the Syrian rebels to move forward.  So far, US lethal support for the Syrian rebels is being handled through intelligence, rather than defense, channels.  In a statement on July 22, the Michigan Republican said: “The House Intelligence Committee has very strong concerns about the strength of the administration's plans in Syria and its chances for success.  After much discussion and review, we got a consensus that we could move forward with what the administration's plans and intentions are in Syria consistent with committee reservations.”

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry held meetings last week with a delegation from the Syria Opposition Coalition, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to advance efforts to convene the Geneva Conference on Syria (or “Geneva II”).  On July 25, Kerry said, “There is no military solution to Syria. There is only a political solution, and that will require leadership in order to bring people to the table. Yesterday I had a conversation with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia. We remain committed to the effort to bring the parties to a Geneva II to implement Geneva I, and we will try our hardest to make that happen as soon as is possible.”

In remarks to reporters, including Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen, in Washington, on July 23, UN Syria Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said that “there is no military solution in Syria,” discussed the challenges of bringing unity to the Syrian opposition, adding that the UN “position is very clear: Arms do not make peace…We would like to see the delivery of arms to stop to all sides.’”

Iraq Offers US Help with Iran

Lukman Faily, Iraq’s newly appointed ambassador to the United States, said last week that, if asked, his country is willing to help facilitate direct talks between the United States and Iran.

“If you guys [the US] or the Iranians want us to be involved, we will be more than happy to participate in trying to bring our guests together and trying to facilitate,” Faily said in an exclusive meeting with Al-Monitor.

Faily’s comments came as The New York Times reported that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had conveyed a message to US officials that Iran would be interested in direct talks on Iran’s nuclear program, and that Iraq would be willing to assist. Iraq helped facilitate a series of direct talks between US and Iranian officials in Baghdad in 2007.

Daoud Kuttab on Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN

On July 28, Daoud Kuttab, contributing writer for Al-Monitor, and Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, discussed the Middle East on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS.

Kuttab told Zakaria: “I think the whole issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one that has to be resolved obviously in private conversations .If there is serious interest in a settlement that ends this conflict and there is a withdraw of Israel to the '67 borders, I think the Palestinian side is expecting and willing to make needed verbal and other compromises to allow the Israeli's to accept the creation of a two-state solution … There is possibilities for compromise on this issue. The big question is the borders. Where will the borders be? And whether the state of Palestine will be a viable, contiguous state that really is independent.”

In a column last week for Al-Monitor, Kuttab was cautiously optimistic that, despite the recent turbulence, the region is on a path away from radicalization and toward moderation. Kuttab wrote:

“The region is witnessing unprecedented political turbulence that has included the toppling of dictators and the sudden rise and fall of political Islamists. This earthquake has not yet stopped. It will take some time before one can reliably assess the shifts taking place. For the time being, the political temperament of the Middle East is clearly moving toward moderation, but with little certainty of its duration. Those living in the region, and those concerned about it, should not allow this window of opportunity for progress and stability to slip away.”

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