* Gazprom says Iran interested, sees project being realised
* Talks show close economic ties between 2 top gas producers
By Jennifer Rankin
MOSCOW, March 14 (Reuters) - Russia and Iran have held talks on building an underground gas storage facility near Tehran, a Gazprom executive said in the company magazine, showing their continued interest in doing business amid Western economic sanctions against Iran.
The talks underscore the close economic ties between the world’s top two gas producers, while the United States and European Union seek to force Iran into concessions over its nuclear programme.
“Last year preliminary negotiations were conducted with Iranian specialists on the question of building, with our participation, an underground gas storage facility in the Tehran region,” Valery Khloptsov, chief executive of Podzemgazprom, a Gazprom subsidiary, said in an interview published on Wednesday.
“I think that ... this project will be realised because our foreign partners are very interested in this,” he added.
A Gazprom spokesman could not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
Podzemgazprom, which is wholly owned by the Russian state-controlled gas export monopoly, builds and maintains underground facilities to store gas, oil and industrial waste in Russia and other ex-Soviet countries.
The United States and European Union have sought to tighten the net around the Islamic Republic, focusing in particular on its energy industry.
Russia has approved four rounds of sanctions against Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme in the U.N Security Council in recent years but considers further sanctions to be futile.
The foreign ministry criticised the EU ban on Iranian oil and other economic sanctions as “deeply mistaken”.
Russia and Iran further cemented their economic ties - spanning nuclear power to dates - when they recently chose to abandon the dollar for bilateral trade and use their domestic rouble and rial currencies instead.
As Western companies have been forced to pull out of the Islamic state as sanctions have tightened, Russia has not always filled the gap. Iran abandoned plans to work with Gazprom on the Azar oil field last October, despite years of talks with the Russian energy giant.
When Iran announced in December that it had signed a $1 billion deal with Russia’s Tatneft to develop the Zagheh oil field on the Persian Gulf, the plan was denied by Tatneft the following day. (editing by Jane Baird)