TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran and Italian power company Edison are nearing agreement on a deal to pump more than a billion cubic feet of Iranian gas to Europe per day, the Iranian oil minister said yesterday. «We have almost finalized our negotiations with the Italian company Edison,» Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari told state television. «Their initial requirement is 1.5 billion cubic feet (42.5 million cubic meters) that they have demanded by the end of 2008. Then it will reach 4.5 billion cubic feet (128 million cubic meters),» he said. Nozari gave no further details but the quantities appeared to refer to the amounts of gas that Iran would pump to Italy per day. The United States and its allies have been pressing European firms to cut down their business with Iran in order to step up pressure against the Islamic republic over its controversial nuclear program. The Iranian oil and gas industries, which are both in need of foreign investment, have been hit by the decision of most European banks to stop dealing with Iran as a result of the nuclear crisis. Nozari has warned European companies they will miss out on lucrative projects if they do not move swiftly to finalize deals. Iran and China’s Sinopec earlier this month signed a $2 billion contract to develop the Yadavaran oil field in what was a crucial deal for the Iranian energy industry. Asked how the gas would reach Italy, Nozari said it would be sent through pipelines across Turkey and then either Greece or Albania. «Edison will coordinate with the Turkish side themselves. But it should be either Turkey, then Albania or Greece,» he said. Iran has the world’s second-largest gas reserves after Russia but until now has remained a relatively minor player in the global export market. It also faces huge consumption demands from its growing population at home. It supplies several billion cubic meters of gas to Turkey annually and has signed a preliminary deal with Ankara for exporting gas into Europe, a move bitterly criticized by the United States. Italy has relatively warm ties with Iran compared with other European Union states and several Italian companies are active in the Islamic republic.