Aron Lund writes: April 8, 2016, the Francophone Algiers daily El Watan quoted an Algerian diplomatic source as saying that for the preceding several weeks his country had been running a secret mediation mission between the governments in Ankara and Damascus, who “want to have an exchange regarding the Kurdish question and the desire of the Syrian Kurds to create an independent state.” According to El Watan, Algeria’s involvement began as an attempt to calm tensions between Turkey and Russia following the downing of a Russian Su-24 jet by the Turkish Air Force in November 2015, but a second Syrian–Turkish channel later opened up via the Algerian embassies in Ankara and Damascus.
Though El Watan is a respected newspaper in Algeria and has good sources in the government, these claims are impossible to confirm. However there has been an intense exchange of Syrian and Algerian delegations this spring. For the first time since the Syrian conflict started in 2011, the country’s foreign minister, Walid al-Mouallem, traveled to Algiers on March 28–29. Intriguingly, this coincided with a visit by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. Algeria responded by sending their minister of Maghreb, African Union, and Arab League affairs, Abdelkader Messahel to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on April 24–25.
Syria and Turkey have been at daggers’ drawn since late summer 2011 when Turkey ended its previous support for Assad’s government and joined the coalition of states seeking to overthrow him. Since then, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been one of the most hawkish proponents of military pressure on Assad and his government has worked with a broad array of Sunni rebel factions, including hardline Islamists, to that end. But with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces — a Syrian group linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, against which Turkey is waging a harsh counterinsurgency campaign — now rolling into the northern countryside of Aleppo, Erdogan’s priorities may be shifting. And that may in turn be part of a larger trend in Turkish foreign policy. [Continue reading…]