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Putin, In Ankara, Launches Construction Of Turkey's First Nuclear Plant

Erdogan Welcomes Putin On Ankara Visit
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin have formally launched the construction of Turkey's first nuclear power plant – a $20 billion project in Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coastal region of Mersin.

Erdogan and Putin, who arrived in the Turkish capital earlier on April 3, both took part in the groundbreaking ceremony from the presidential palace in Ankara via a video conference.

Turkey’s state television channel, TRT, showed workers already working on the ground as fireworks were set off to mark the April 3 ceremony.

Construction on roads and other facilities connected to the project began several years earlier.

Ankara granted the Russian state nuclear energy conglomerate Rosatom a construction license to work on the first of four units at the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, which is less than one kilometer from the Mediterranean Sea.

Turkey expects the nuclear power station to become functional by the year 2023, but the project has been beset by delays -- including reports of stalled construction work dating back to December 2015.

Putin's visit to Turkey is his first trip abroad since winning reelection in March.

Putin and Erdogan on April 3 also were discussing bilateral trade and economic cooperation during their talks in Ankara.

Also on their agenda was Turkey’s plan to buy surface-to-air missile systems from Russia, and the current military situation in Syria.

On April 4, the Russian and Turkish leaders will be joined in Ankara by Iranian President Hassan Rohani for trilateral talks on the seven-year Syrian conflict, in which the three countries are deeply involved.

Relations between Russia and Turkey soured badly after Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border in November 2015. But Putin and Erdogan have taken steps to mend ties since then as both countries’ relations with the West have deteriorated.

The two countries are also building the TurkStream pipeline, estimated to be worth more than $12 billion, to transport Russian gas to Turkey.

And Ankara is negotiating the purchase of S-400 missile defense systems from Russia, raising eyebrows among some of Turkey's NATO allies.

The United States has warned countries around the world, including Turkey, that they could face sanctions over any "significant transactions" they make with Russia's military.

In the Syrian conflict, Russia and Turkey have backed opposing sides but the two countries, along with Iran, have worked together to create "de-escalation zones" to reduce the fighting. They have also sponsored a series of negotiations on the Syrian conflict in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.

Russia and Iran have given crucial military and diplomatic backing to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government throughout the war, which began with a government crackdown on protesters and has killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Turkey supports Syrian opposition fighters who want to oust Assad.

With reporting by Reuters, TASS, Interfax, AP, and dpa