Russia criticizes EU Iran sanctions, urges talks

MOSCOW Wed Oct 17, 2012 2:48pm EDT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia criticized the European Union on Wednesday for imposing new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program and called for a fresh round of talks between world powers and Tehran as soon as possible.

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing "deep concern" over EU sanctions imposed on Tuesday against major Iranian state companies in the oil and gas industry and the central bank.

Moscow said unilateral sanctions by the EU dealt a "palpable blow" to the unity of the six nations - the United States, France, Britain, China, Germany and Russia - leading diplomatic efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear program.

"We will continue to consistently seek to achieve the organization of the next round of negotiations ... as soon as possible," the statement said. No talks have been held since the last round in Moscow failed to bring a breakthrough last June.

Russia has supported four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran but says further measures are counterproductive.

The West suspects Iran of using its civilian atomic energy program as a cover for ambitions to build a nuclear bomb - accusations Tehran denies.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Monday she hoped turning up the heat on the Islamic Republic would persuade it to make concessions and that negotiations could resume "very soon".

(Reporting By Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing By Steve Gutterman and Andrew Heavens)

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