ISTANBUL, April 13 (Reuters) - Iran's chief nuclear negotiator arrived in Istanbul on Friday for his first talks with the world powers in more than a year aimed at easing mounting international tension over the Islamic state's atomic activities.
Iranian state television showed footage of Saeed Jalili, who heads the country's delegation for the April 14 talks, getting into a car at the airport of Turkey's biggest city.
Saturday's meeting is widely seen as a chance for the six major powers - the United States, France, Russia, China, Britain and Germany - and Iran to start halting a downward diplomatic spiral and help avert the threat of a new Middle East war.
The West accuses Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability and Israel has hinted at military strikes to prevent its arch foe from obtaining such arms.
Iran, which has come under increasingly tough Western sanctions targeting its oil exports, says its nuclear programme is peaceful and has repeatedly ruled out suspending it.
Diplomats and analysts played down any expectations for any major breakthrough in the first round of discussions, but say the meeting may pave the ground for further negotiations aimed at resolving the long-running dispute.
"The head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, arrived in Istanbul on Friday and was welcomed by local officials as well as Iran's envoy to Turkey, Bahman Hosseinpour," Iran's official IRNA news agency said.
Jalili headed a four-member Iranian delegation, state television said. Iranian news agencies said his deputy Ali Baqeri would hold talks with Russian and Chinese officials later on Friday.
The formal talks with the six powers and their chief representative, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, will get underway on Saturday, but Ashton and Jalili are expected to meet over dinner on Friday evening.
The last time the two sides met, also in Istanbul in January last year, they could not even agree an agenda.
"It's excellent that these talks are finally going ahead, more than a year since we last met," Ashton's spokesman Michael Mann said. "We hope that this first round will produce a conducive environment for concrete results through a sustained process." (Reporting by Zahra Hosseinian, Justyna Pawlak and Jonathan Burch; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Jon Hemming)