Iranian President Hassan Rouhani began a state visit to Turkey today (Monday), the first by an Iranian head of state since 2008.

Rouhani was received by Turkish President Abdullah Gul at the presidential palace in Ankara with a special welcoming ceremony. He and Gul are meeting with other Turkish leaders at the palace for bilateral talks.

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined the gathering, which preceeded the start of direct talks in Geneva between the United States and Iran over Tehran’s galloping nuclear development program.

On the agenda is the expansion of trade and other ways to establish closer economic and political ties, according to the Turkish Al Hurriyet news agency. Officials from the two nations are also discussing the raging civil war in Syria, which borders both countries and which has affected the relations between the two.

Iran has armed and backed President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces have periodically shelled villages in Turkey. In addition, Syrian military forces have often fired at civilians as they crossed the border into Turkey to escape the violence in their homeland.

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