Turkey plays down Ahmadinejad snub to state's founding father

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was always going to have a problem paying homage to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founding father of modern Turkey and a leader synonymous with secularism.

But in a move that has revived criticisms of its alleged Islamist sympathies, Turkey's ruling Justice and Development party has got around the difficulty by inviting the Iranian leader to Istanbul, the former Ottoman capital, instead of Ankara, the Turkish capital and site of the Ataturk mausoleum.

Ahmadinejad said he was unwilling to go to the late leader's mausoleum in Ankara, a courtesy which protocol demands of all visiting foreign leaders.

As the architect of the modern Turkish state that consciously subjugates Islam, Ataturk was the antithesis of everything the devout Iranian president represents. He was also an ally and role model of Reza Shah, father of Iran's last shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic revolution that brought the theocratic regime to power.

Turkish officials have tried to gloss over the exceptional arrangements by describing Ahmadinejad's visit next week as a "working" trip. He will meet the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and President Abdullah Gul for talks likely to be dominated by Iran's nuclear programme, an issue on which Turkey has tried to establish itself as an intermediary between Tehran and the west.

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