Iran, Six Powers Start Expert-Level Nuclear Talks in Vienna

(Reuters) -

Iran and six world powers began an expert-level meeting about Tehran’s nuclear program on Thursday, part of efforts to reach an agreement by late July on how to resolve a decade-old dispute that has stirred fears of a Middle East war.

The meeting in Vienna of nuclear and other experts from Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Russia, China and Britain was to prepare for a new round of higher-level negotiations next week, also in the Austrian capital.

A spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton — whose office is coordinating contacts with Iran on behalf of the big powers — confirmed that the meeting had started but gave no details. Officials earlier said they were expected to last until Saturday.

The April 8-9 meeting of chief negotiators — including Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif — will be the third round of talks at that level since February.

The aim is to hammer out a long-term deal by July 20 that would define the permissible scope of Iran’s nuclear program in return for a lifting of sanctions that are severely battering its oil-dependent economy.