* Bashir, Ahmadinejad to attend OIC meeting
* ICC arrest warrant, nuclear row could overshadow gathering
* Host Turkey's foreign policy fuels Western worries
By Thomas Grove
ISTANBUL, Nov 6 A summit of Islamic countries in
Istanbul next week will boost Turkey's quest to deepen ties with
the Muslim world, but some of its new friends are not to the
taste of its traditional ally, Washington.
Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has an
international arrest warrant against him for war crimes, and
Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, engaged in a standoff with the West
over Tehran's nuclear programme, are among leaders who will
attend an Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting.
The one-day summit on Monday will add to growing concerns in
some Western circles that Turkey, an OIC member which is seeking
European Union membership, is shifting away from its pro-Western
foreign policy and embracing countries such as Iran and Syria,
while distancing itself from regional friend Israel.
"I think this summit will put Turkey again on the frontline,
both in regards with Iran and Bashir," said Hugh Pope, a senior
analyst for the International Crisis Group.
"Engagement and cooperation can be a way to bring autocratic
states into the international system, but the challenge for
Turkey is that it needs to show results and that the behaviour
of these states is changing," Pope said.
Although the 57-nation body's meeting has been billed as an
economic summit to discuss trade and anti-poverty measures among
members, the presence of Bashir and Ahmadinejad will likely
overshadow its economic goals.
Western powers are seeking to exert pressure on Tehran for
concessions on its nuclear programme, and Ahmadinejad could use
the summit to undermine efforts to isolate the Islamic republic
and to give one of his trademark anti-Western speeches.
The West fears Tehran's nuclear programme is a covert plan
to develop nuclear weapons, but Iran has denied this and says it
needs nuclear technology to generate electricity.
The visit by Sudan's Bashir, who has travelled to African
countries since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued
the arrest warrant against him in March for war crimes in
Darfur, puts NATO member Turkey in an awkward position, but a
Turkish Foreign Ministry official said there were no plans to
"We have invited Bashir as one of the heads of state to the
meeting and he will be treated as one," the official said.
Turkey, which has deepened commercial ties with Sudan, has
not ratified the 2002 Rome Statute that established the ICC, but
is under pressure to do so to meet European Union standards.
The attendance of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad
and Syria's President Bashar al-Assad might also add weight to
the summit of the OIC, which has little political power.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday he did
not wish to run for re-election in January, voicing
disappointment at Washington's "favouring" of Israel in
arguments over re-launching peace talks.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in what would be his first
trip abroad since his re-election was announced this week
following a fraud-marred ballot, is also expected to attend.
Ahmadinejad's visit to Istanbul will follow a state visit
last month by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to Tehran,
in which the two countries signed trade and energy deals.
Ankara's growing attachment to Iran has fuelled worries that
Turkey, a moderate Muslim democracy and a U.S. ally, is turning
its back on Washington and the EU, something it denies.
"Policymakers in the West are getting worried that Turkey's
growing ties with Iran -- by lessening that country's sense of
isolation -- may frustrate diplomatic efforts to prevent Tehran
from building a nuclear bomb," Katinka Barysch, of the Centre
for European Reform thinktank, wrote this week.
Erdogan's AK Party government, which has roots in political
Islam, has sought to expand Turkey's influence in the Middle
East -- a process analysts say has run in parallel with Ankara's
frustration at perceived EU misgivings over its membership bid.
During his warmly received trip to Tehran, Erdogan blasted
Western powers for treating Iran "unfairly" and said the Islamic
republic's nuclear programme was for humanitarian purposes.
Ian Lesser, from the German Marshall Fund of the United
States, said that by inviting Ahmadinejad and Bashir, Turkey
might deepen perceptions its foreign policy is ambiguous.
"It is an example of the risks that Turkey is running by
trying to be too many things in too many places at the same time
and without too much discrimination," Lesser said.
(Additional reporting by Zerin Elci and Ibon Villelabeitia in
Ankara, Opheera McDoom in Khartoum and Peter Graff in Kabul)
(Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)