Iran and the United States on Monday began direct talks in Geneva aimed at ending Tehran’s stand-off with world powers over its disputed nuclear program, Iranian media reported.

The negotiations, which are expected to last two days, come ahead of a July 20 deadline for an accord to be reached between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group under an interim deal agreed in November.

The European Union’s political director, Helga Schmid, also attended Monday’s meeting in the Swiss city, according to the reports in Iran.

Iran’s nuclear pointman Abbas Araqchi said on Sunday that the tete-a-tete with American officials was essential as the nuclear negotiations are delicately poised and most of the sanctions against Tehran were from the United States.

Tehran and Washington, at odds since the 1979 Islamic revolution and the hostage crisis that followed, have in the past year taken tentative steps towards rapprochement.

Earlier Monday Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, on a two-day official visit to Ankara to boost trade ties, called for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons while.

“Iran calls for a Middle East without any nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction,” he said in a joint press conference in Ankara with President Abdullah Gul. Rouhani added that all countries should have the right to a peaceful nuclear program, sentiments echoed by Gul in his own comments.

President Gul said that Turkey “strongly supported a deal that will help remove all the sanctions.”

Ankara has long defended Tehran’s right to peaceful nuclear technology but adamantly opposes any development of nuclear weapons, which it fears would lead to an arms race in the Middle East.

“We don’t want any country in our region to possess nuclear weapons. We maintain our desire for a Middle East cleared of weapons of mass destruction,” Gul said.