EU's energy chief visits Turkey as U.S. piles pressure for Nabucco.hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none; color:#000000;}.hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink:hover { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; color:#990000;}The energy commissioner of the European Union started his visit to Ankara on Thursday, a day after the Azerbaijani leader, as the U.S. signals it wants the process of the Nabucco project to be accelerated. (UPDATED)

Andris Piebalgs met Thursday high-level Turkish officials, including the country's President Abdullah Gul and the prime minister, and is expected to make a push for the Nabucco gas pipeline project that faces stiff competition from Russia.

The 3,300 km Nabucco pipeline project is designed to bring 30 billion cubic meters of central Asian gas annually to Europe via Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. Supporters say it is vital to wean Europe from its over-dependency on Russian energy.

Piebalgs will try to unblock talks for a gas transmission accord. The European Commission is confident the Turkish transit deal can be signed by the end of year.

Although the project has a huge political support from the EU and the partner countries as well as the U.S., challenges remain in place with increasing costs and delays in the final agreements.

Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler told HotNewsTurkey that his government has signed the drafts of host-governmental and inter-governmental agreements and sent them to its partners.

"The important thing here is filling the inside of the pipeline. We continue our energy diplomacy and negotiations with the other supplier countries. The Nabucco project is experiencing its fastest period now," he said, reiterating his country's commitment to realize the project.

However, the U.S. seems to be unsatisfied with the speed of the project. "Everyone's perception is different. But in the U.S. perception it is not going rapid enough. It needs to go faster, it will go faster, it can go faster," Matt Bryza, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs replied when asked about Guler's remarks.

The main hurdle that the project faces is the gas supplies, a problem acknowledged by the officials as well.

Nabucco project is aimed at decreasing Europe's dependency on Russian gas by diversifying the energy supply routes. However, the project officials admit Russian gas is also needed to fill in the pipes.

All Central Asian natural gas exports to the EU currently flow through Russia. Both the EU and the US support the Nabucco pipeline, which is being developed by a consortium led by Austria's OMV. It also includes Hungary's Mol, BOTAS of Turkey, Bulgargaz of Bulgaria and Transgaz of Romania.

The project is crucial for Turkey as well as Europe as it can play an important role in energy security however there are some problems that are needed to be addressed, said Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency.

"First of all there need to be a clarification on the sources of the gas. Secondly, a consensus should be reached with the countries in the region, including Russia. Thirdly, serious steps should be taken in terms of financing," Birol said.

He added the project should be realized but is expected to be delayed for a couple of more years.

The project involves investments of 8 billion euros ($10.26 billion), according to EU data.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is paying a visit to Turkey to discuss the potential partnerships in energy alongside political issues concerning the region.

Azerbaijan, a country among the supply candidates for Nabucco, has been already exporting gas to Turkey from Shah Deniz through Georgia via a 692-kilometers-long South Caucasus Pipeline, which runs parallel to the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.

The U.S. official Bryza said there is a plenty of gas far Nabucco. "There is plenty of gas in Azerbaijan, Iraq and Turkmenistan. But we have to work with all of these countries to bring the gas in a coordinated way, not at exactly the same time, but also in a sequenced way so there is enough gas to start Nabucco to get to the middle level and then to the upper level," he added.

Bryza also said Turkey is taking a lead on the project and the U.S. is ready to provide support to the communication to limit mistrust, as well as to help all related parties.