Did Quds chief breach travel ban by visiting Russia?
U.N. sources say that Qassem Soleimani, chief of the Revolutionary Guards' elite overseas unit, had visited Moscow last month
Qassem Soleimani, the little-seen head of Iran’s elite overseas arm of the Revolutionary Guards who is subject to a United Nations travel ban, has visited Russia, two U.S. security sources said on Friday.
The White House said that although it could not confirm reports that Soleimani, who heads up the Quds force, had traveled to Russia, but that the reports were an indication of ongoing concerns with Iran’s behavior.
Soleimani has been subject to an international travel ban and asset freeze by the U.N. Security Council since 2007. However, this is not the first time he has reportedly breached his ban. In December last year, the elusive top commander was spotted in Iraq, a U.N. panel said at the time.
Fox News reported on Thursday that Soleimani had arrived in Moscow on July 24 and met President Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu before departing three days later.
A Kremlin spokesman denied any meeting between Soleimani and Putin had taken place, RIA news agency reported.
One U.S. security source told Reuters the Fox report was true but it was unclear what was discussed at the meeting.
A senior administration official in Washington said U.S. sanctions on Soleimani would remain in place.
“We will maintain sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Qods Force, its leadership - including Qassem Soleimani - and its entire network,” the official said.
Two officials at the Russian Foreign Ministry said they could neither confirm nor deny a Soleimani visit to Moscow. The Russian defence ministry was not available for comment.
Washington designated Soleimani’s Quds Force as a supporter of terrorism in 2007. The European Union did the same in 2011. Western governments and Israel accuse it of arming various militant groups in the Middle East. U.N. member states are required to deny entry to blacklisted individuals.
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