By Murat Temizer, Dilara Zengin and Ebru Sengul
Turkey and Russia signed an intergovernmental agreement for the Turkish Stream natural gas pipeline project in Istanbul on Monday.
Energy Minister Berat Albayrak and his Russian counterpart Alexander Novak signed the agreement following a meeting between the two countries’ Presidents, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, which continued for 140 minutes in Istanbul.
Earlier Monday, Putin indicated the need to develop the Turkish Stream natural gas project during talks with Erdogan.
The project, announced by Putin during a December 2014 visit to Turkey, will carry gas from Russia under the Black Sea to Turkish Thrace. One pipeline, with 15.75 billion cubic meters of capacity, is expected to supply the Turkish market, while a second line would carry gas to Europe.
Negotiations over the pipeline were halted after Turkey shot down a Russian jet which violated Turkish airspace over the Turkey-Syria border in November last year but recently talks have resumed.
Last month, Gazprom said construction could start by the end of 2017 if an intergovernmental agreement was signed in October, with the goal of completing the pipeline by 2019.
Turkey, which is the second biggest consumer of Russian gas after Germany, imports around 30 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia annually via two pipelines -- the Blue Stream, which passes under the eastern Black Sea, and the Western Line through the Balkans.
- Ties to normalize 'swiftly'
Speaking at a joint press conference with Putin, Erdogan said: "I firmly believe the normalization process between Turkey and Russia will continue swiftly."
He said the new agreement signed between the two countries would now accelerate the Turkish Stream Project.
He added that negotiations over the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant would also continue as planned. Putin said the plant would not only be a means to generate nuclear energy but would also cover technology and training of Turkish staff.
The Akkuyu nuclear plant, which will be located in the southern province of Mersin, will be Turkey’s first nuclear power station.
Turkish exports to increase
Russian president also announced that Turkey would now be allowed to export items that were put on its restricted list following the last November jet crisis.
"Today, the Russian government took a decision. We are reopening many restricted Turkish exports. We will take especially citrus fruits and other fresh fruit, and vegetables and agricultural products to the Russian market. It is a decision based on mutual advantage.
"Because Russian agricultural sector does not produce these types of products. When these products will be exported from Turkey to Russia, our prices will go down," Putin said.
After the Nov. 24 jet crisis, Moscow took several measures against Turkey, including restriction of visa-free travel to a ban on imports of certain foodstuffs and a ban on the sale of Turkish holiday packages by tourist agencies to Russians. Russia had also called on its nationals to boycott Turkey as a tourist destination following the jet crisis.
Syria discussed 'in detail'
About Syria, Erdogan said: "Surely, it is a very sensitive issue. We discussed the Syria issue in detail. We talked about the Operation Euphrates Shield with Putin. We evaluated what kind of cooperation we can make and what kind of strategy we can apply about the humanitarian aid, especially the developments in Aleppo so that people will have peace as immediate as possible."
Putin said: "Both Turkey and Russia side with stopping the bloodshed in Syria quickly. We want a political solution in Syria in the quickest way as well."
Turkey's Operation Euphrates Shield, which was launched on Aug. 24, is aimed at bolstering border security, supporting coalition forces, and eliminating the threat posed by terrorist organizations, especially Daesh.
The operation is in line with the country’s right to self-defense borne out of international treaties and a mandate given to Turkey’s armed forces by its parliament in 2014, which was extended for another year in September 2015.
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