The European Commission aims to seal a deal on the import of Iraqi gas via the planned Nabucco pipeline within "a matter of weeks," the EU executive's chief, Jose Manuel Barroso, said Wednesday.

"The negotiations are going very well," the commission president said after a meeting in Brussels with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki.

Barroso said the talks were at an advanced stage and that he expected a deal to be sealed within "a matter of some weeks."

The EU currently relies heavily on natural gas from Russia and is eager to diversify its suppliers. The deal under discussion involves importing gas from Iraq's vast Ekas field via the Arab Gas Pipeline.

The gas would then reach the heart of Europe through the planned Nabucco pipeline, which is to run from Turkey to Austria via Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary.

As the two leaders spoke, Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al- Shahristani was holding detailed talks with the EU's energy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs.

Al-Shahristani is expected to return to Brussels for a conference taking place at the beginning of May, and EU officials hope that that occasion will provide an opportunity for the deal to be signed.

Asked by journalists about the security situation back home, al- Maliki said foreign forces would be asked to withdraw from Iraq once the country's army and security forces are able to face "all the threats."

"We hope this will be soon," the premier said.

He was speaking a day after more than 60 people were killed and 91 wounded in separate violent incidents around Iraq.

Copyright 2008 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

Related Project
Nabucco Gas Pipeline
Facility Type: Pipeline Owner: Nabucco Gas Pipeline International Gmbh
Scope: New Construction Location: Middle East and Central Asia to Europe Turkey