Iran's talks to ease tensions over its nuclear programme with six world powers are expected to commence in Istanbul on January 21.

According to the Turkish daily Zaman, the date for the two-day talks was set after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Thursday spoke separately with Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief negotiator on the nuclear issue, and interim Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. The Turkish top diplomat had earlier in the week also spoken with European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who will lead the six world powers during negotiations. Iran had in December last held the first round of revived talks in Geneva with the sextet comprising the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

Separate meetings

The daily said that Turkey, while playing host will not participate in the dialogue. However, it would be ready to contribute to the success of the talks. Mr. Davutoglu would be present in Istanbul during the course of the talks and if asked to do so, would join the negotiations or hold separate meetings with participants.

Ahead of the talks, Ms. Ashton is expected to visit Turkey on January 13-14, when discussions on the Iranian nuclear programme are expected.

On Friday, the EU top diplomat announced that the grouping had turned down Iran's invitation for a visit to its nuclear sites of Natanz, where uranium is enriched, and Arak, the site of a heavy water plant. Speaking in Budapest, Ms. Ashton said inspections of nuclear sites were the prime responsibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  “My view is that though this is not an invitation that I'm taking a negative view of, it's not our job, and looking at the sites and establishing what they are requires expertise.”

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