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Iranian President to visit Turkey; gas deal expected

TURKEY: Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was due in Turkey Thursday where he was expected to sign a new gas pipeline deal in a demonstration of the improved ties between the Islamic Republic and the NATO ally.

The two-day visit is Ahmadinejad's first to Turkey since he came to power in 2005. He was scheduled to meet with his counterpart Abdullah Gul in Istanbul.

Relations have improved between Iran and Turkey's Islamic rooted leadership, which took power in 2002.

Earlier Turkish governments accused Iran for decades of trying to export its radical Islamic regime to secular Turkey, which is aspiring to join the European Union.

While the West has threatened a fourth round of sanctions over Tehran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment, because of fears Iran could develop a nuclear weapon, Turkey has said it is not opposed to the nuclear work if it is only for civil use.

Iran is Turkey's third biggest natural gas supplier. The two countries were expected to seal an agreement to build a new gas pipeline to prevent the frequent cuts in gas from Iran during wintertime.

Washington opposes any new energy deal between Iran and Turkey on grounds that it could send a wrong message to Tehran amid the nuclear standoff.

The United States has also opposed plans for Turkey's investment in Iran's South Pars gas fields, and the Islamic Republic selling its gas in European markets via a U.S.-backed pipeline through Turkey.

Istanbul, Thursday, AP

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