The United States is investigating reports that the commander of the elite Quds Force in Iran's Revolutionary Guard recently visited Russia in violation of a United Nations travel ban, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said August 7.
Iranian officials told Reuters that Major General Ghasem Soleimani met with senior Russian officials in Moscow late last month and discussed the delivery of Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran.
Fox News reported that he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. While the Kremlin is denying that, Reuters said U.S. security sources confirmed the meeting took place.
Power said the UN travel ban requires all countries to deny the Iranian general entry into their borders, and the only exception is if the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against Iran grants an exemption.
"To our knowledge no such exemption was granted, and we would know," Power said. "So these are very concerning reports, but we are still, again, tracking down the facts."
Since the Quds Force is a designated terrorist group, Soleimaini has been on the UN sanctions blacklist since 2007.
Fox News, citing Western intelligence sources, said Soleimani arrived in Moscow on July 24 for meetings with Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
In June, the UN panel of experts monitoring sanctions against Iran cited media reports and published several photos of Soleimani showing that he traveled to Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon — although no country had reported a violation of the travel ban.
Soleimani "was reportedly organizing and training militia and regular forces in those countries," the panel said. He was also shown on a magazine cover as a commander fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq.
Iran says the Quds force has played a key role in fighting IS, which now controls about a third of Iraq and Syria. The effort has been led by Soleimani, but Tehran insists its officers are only providing military advice and training.
In the years following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, American commanders repeatedly accused the Quds Force of backing Shi'ite militias implicated in attacks on American troops and Sunni civilians, charges denied by Tehran.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and Fox News