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Oil drops below $102 ahead of Iran nuclear talks

Oil prices fell below $102 a barrel Monday amid hopes that international talks between Tehran and the six major powers scheduled for this week may help avoid military action over Iran's nuclear program.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark oil for May delivery was down $1.41 to $101.90 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added $1.84 to settle at $103.31 in New York on Thursday. The global oil market was closed Friday for the Good Friday holiday.

In London, Brent crude for May delivery was down $1.11 at $122.32 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

On Sunday, Iran state television said negotiations with the U.S., China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany over the country's nuclear program are scheduled to begin Friday in Istanbul. Fears that an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities by Israel or the U.S. would disrupt global crude supplies have helped push oil prices up from $75 in October.

In a fresh outline of a possible compromise proposal, Iran's nuclear chief said Sunday that the Islamic Republic may pledge to eventually stop producing its most highly enriched uranium, while not totally abandoning its ability to make nuclear fuel.

Crude has fallen from $110 last month amid signs of weak consumer demand in the U.S., the world's biggest oil consumer. Crude inventories have jumped more than expected the last two weeks, and the U.S. government said Friday that the economy added 120,000 jobs in March, fewer than analysts expected.

"A down trend across the energy market could extend across this entire quarter," energy trader and consultant Ritterbusch and Associates said in a report.

Investors will be closely watching the beginning of first quarter corporate earnings results for clues about the strength of the U.S. economy. Aluminum maker Alcoa, tech giant Google and J.P. Morgan bank are scheduled to report this week.

In other energy trading, heating oil was down 1.88 cents at $3.1504 per gallon and gasoline futures slid 3.21 cents to $3.3084 per gallon. Natural gas fell 1.4 cents to $2.075 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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Alex Kennedy in Singapore and Nasser Karimi in Tehran contributed to this report.

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