The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joined Muslim leaders for a summit in Turkey today with his country under increasing pressure over its nuclear drive. Mr Ahmadinejad took centre stage at the one-day Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) summit after the Sudanese president Omar al Beshir, wanted by a UN court for war crimes, cancelled his attendance at the last moment. Turkey rejected international calls to arrest Mr al Beshir, but Sudan announced late on Sunday that Mr al Beshir had scrapped the visit because of key political negotiations at home.
The Istanbul summit, which will focus on developing closer trade ties and addressing poverty, has drawn leaders including the Syrian president Bashar al Assad, the Afghan president Hamid Karzai and the Palestinian premier Salam Fayyad. Iran's nuclear programme was one of the issues discussed in talks Mr Ahmadinejad held with Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul after the Iranian leader arrived in Turkey Sunday.
Mr Ahmadinejad's presence coincides with international pressure on Iran to agree to a UN-brokered plan to provide Iran with enriched uranium for a Tehran reactor. Under the plan thrashed out in talks with France, Russia and the United States, Iran would ship most of its own stocks of low-enriched uranium in return for fuel to power a research reactor in Tehran. The proposals were designed to assuage fears that Iran could divert some of its uranium and further enrich it to reach the higher levels of purity required to make an atom bomb.
World powers have endorsed the plan drafted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's atomic watchdog, but Iran, which insists its nuclear programme is peaceful, has yet to give a final response. Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said on Sunday that he wants to reach agreement "as quickly as possible" on the plan and Tehran wishes to hold further discussions. But the New York Times reported on Monday that Iran had ignored US proposals to send stockpiles of enriched uranium to any of several nations, including Turkey, for safekeeping.
Instead, the Iranians have revived an old proposal that calls for international arms inspectors to take custody of much of Iran's fuel, but keep it on Kish, a Gulf resort island that is part of Iran. Members of the US administration said they had now all but lost hope that Iran would follow through with an agreement to send its fuel out of the country temporarily, the paper said. Turkey, a Nato member, has in recent years boosted efforts to build closer ties with the Muslim world, including Iran, Sudan and Syria that are at odds with the West.
A sharp downturn in Turkey's relations with chief regional ally in Israel over last year's war in Gaza has further fuelled concerns over Turkey's future direction. After a visit to Iran last month marked by the signing of bilateral partnerships on trade and energy, Mr Erdogan firmly denied that his country was shedding its pro-Western outlook. But he has accused the West of treating Iran unfairly over its nuclear programme - earning praise from Mr Ahmadinejad - and argued that efforts to rid the Middle East of nuclear weapons must also focus on Israel, the region's sole but undeclared nuclear power.