Turkey unnerved by Iran, Algeria deal on Syria

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (R) shakes hands with Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in this 2010 photo. (PHOTO: REUTERS, ZOHRA BENSEMRA)

September 09, 2012, Sunday/ 15:42:00

Turkey is very much concerned with what Turkish officials have described as a “tacit agreement” between Algeria and Iran with regard to the 18-month-long Syrian crisis.

The increasing alignment in the policies of the North African country and Iran have gained momentum since the beginning of the Arab Spring, particularly in the Syrian crisis, which has dragged on for far longer than any other Arab Spring uprising.

A senior Turkish official, who spoke to Sunday’s Zaman on condition of anonymity, stated that since the beginning of the Arab revolution in the North African region, Algeria has been very concerned with the possible spillover effect of the uprising on its own country, as three of Algeria’s neighbors, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, have experienced uprisings that have resulted in the fall of the dictatorships in those countries. The same official added that Turkey is closely watching the increasing cooperation between Algeria and Iran, who is a close ally of the embattled Syrian President Bashar al- Assad regime, adding there is a “tacit agreement” between Algeria and Iran over Syria. Turkey and Iran have conflicting policies regarding Syria, a situation that has strained relations over the past several months. Turkey is one of the staunchest supporters of the opposition forces that are trying to topple Assad.

In contrast with Turkey, Iran has stood by its ally Syria despite the growing international pressure on the Syrian president.

Algeria is the new actor on the scene and is keen to play a partner role with Iran in its policy towards the Syrian crisis, agree experts. Iran and Algeria have adamantly opposed any foreign interference in Syria’s internal affairs, underlining the importance of resolving the problems through dialogue.

“Algeria and Iran considers the Arab uprising as a threat to their own countries. Syria is an important laboratory for the countries which are concerned about the Arab Spring wave,” Arif Keskin, a prominent Iran analyst, told Sunday’s Zaman. Iran and Algeria took a similar stance at the meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in mid-August in Mecca, where the suspension of Syria from the OIC was approved by an absolute majority with objections only from Iran and Algeria.

Another example of the Algerian stance in regards to Syria came in February when it abstained from voting on a United Nations draft resolution on the situation in Syria, which was adopted by a recorded vote of 137 in favor to 12 against, including Iran’s vote siding with the Assad regime. Iranian president has also underlined several times that Iran and Algeria have the capacity to create a new world order, adding Iran and Algeria could be an exemplar of brotherly ties in the world via the expansion and diversification of relations in all spheres.

“Algeria is a door for Iran to pursue its Shia policies in the North Africa region. Since 10 years, Algeria is the only country in the North Africa region which eases the expansion of the Shia policies of Iran,” says Cahit Tuz, Middle East adviser in Parliament.

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, in a meeting with Speaker of Algeria’s National Assembly Abdul Qadir bin Saleh on the sidelines of the 16th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Tehran in August, said that the African state has been a good partner for Iran since the victory of the Islamic Revolution.

“Algeria is Iran’s good partner and an anti-Israeli resistance front since the victory of the Islamic Revolution,” said Khamanei.

“In order to get rid of the West’s isolation policy, Iran is in search of new partners in Africa. In this respect, Algeria is an important partner for Iran,” Bayram Sinkaya, an expert on Iranian politics and a lecturer in the department of international relations at Yıldırım Beyazıt University in Ankara, said in remarks to Sunday’s Zaman.

The other point which brings Algeria and Iran to stand in the same line is their anti-imperialist stance. Moreover, Algerian leaders have publicly backed Iran’s ongoing nuclear program on numerous occasions and voiced Algeria’s support for Iran’s right to “peaceful nuclear technology”.

However, Keskin believes that the close Algerian-Iranian relationship and solidarity will not be long lasting. “I think the closeness between the two counties is just due to the conjuncture,” said Keskin.

Algeria’s relations with Turkey were strained this January when Turkey raised the issue of France’s killing of thousands of Algerians during the North African nation’s struggle for independence between 1954 and 1962.

“Iran is trying to exploit lackluster performance on the bilateral ties between Turkey and Algeria,” said Tuz.

The Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia has asked Turkish officials to refrain from bringing up Algeria’s history during the period of French colonization, delivering a strong message that Algeria is disturbed by the mention of its history in a quarrel between Turkey and France.

But reaction to the Algerian prime minister’s words was immediate from both opposition leaders and members of the Algerian coalition government, as both blocs suggested that Ouyahia was “serving France” by way of slashing support from Turkey in a matter sensitive to Algerians. “The current government in Algeria is discomforted with Turkey due to its stance towards Algeria in the post colonial era. There is a perception that Turkey didn’t support Algeria in its hard days,” Arif Keskin, a prominent Iran analyst, said in remarks to Sunday’s Zaman.

Ouyahia noted that Turkey had been a member of NATO during the war in Algeria and as such had provided material support to France. “We say to our (Turkish) friends: Stop making capital out of Algeria’s colonization,” said Ouyahia.

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