India and Iran were expected to push ahead with a $7 billion gas pipeline during the Iranian president's visit to New Delhi on Tuesday, despite opposition from the United States.

Energy-starved India desperately wants to kick-start the long-stalled pipeline project because it needs the Iranian fuel to help drive its economic development.

But the pipeline and India's traditionally strong ties with Tehran have both come under pressure from the U.S., which strongly opposes the project.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in the Indian capital on Tuesday after visiting Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the South Asian region. He was to meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil during a brief five-hour visit before flying back to Iran, India's Foreign Ministry said.

The pipeline, which needs to run through Pakistan, has been stalled by disagreements between India and Pakistan over costs and Indian fears about the pipeline's security in Pakistan.

India has already reacted angrily to suggestions from the U.S. that it should use its influence to press Iran to give up its nuclear program.

"India and Iran are ancient civilizations whose relations span centuries," the Foreign Ministry said last week. "Neither country needs any guidance on the future conduct of bilateral relations."

Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.

Ahmadinejad's visit, the first by an Iranian president to India in five years, comes as India is drawing closer to the West. New Delhi and Washington are trying to finalize a nuclear energy cooperation deal that has faced opposition from India's communist parties who say it would give the U.S. too much influence over Indian foreign policy.

India is also developing defense ties with Iran's archenemy Israel. Earlier this year India launched an Israeli spy satellite which among other things is intended to monitor Iran's nuclear program.