WASHINGTON — The Kremlin is denying that a top Iranian military leader visited Moscow, days after the U.S. accused it of hosting the blacklisted commander.
Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force — a paramilitary branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps — is currently the subject of United Nations-imposed travel sanctions, which Russia approved in its role on the U.N. Security Council. Russia also took part in reaching a recent deal over Iran's nuclear program.
Last week, U.S. State Department officials acknowledged reports that Suleimani had traveled to Russia in violation of his travel ban. "To our knowledge no ... exemption was granted, and we would know," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power told reporters last Friday. "So these are very concerning reports but we are still, again, tracking down the facts."
On Wednesday, a State Department spokesperson confirmed that the trip had occurred. Another official on Thursday said that "[Secretary of State John] Kerry also raised his concerns about the travel to Moscow by IRGC Commander Qassem Suleimani" in a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov now denies that the Iranian was ever in Russia.
“We informed our American colleagues last week that we do not have such information, that Suleimani did not visit Moscow and that we thought the issue was closed,” Ryabkov said at a briefing on Friday, according to local media reports.
During a press conference on Monday alongside Lavrov in Moscow, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the reports of Suleimani's visit "hype and propaganda" based on the U.S. political climate surrounding the nuclear deal.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Monday during his daily briefing that the U.S. "is not in any place to independently confirm reports of his travel," adding that "we've seen nothing that would mitigate our concerns about his travel."
The State Department told the New York Times that it was calling for a United Nations Security Council investigation into the alleged sanctions violation. Any such investigation would likely be conducted by the panel of experts that monitors and reports on the U.N. sanctions against Iran.
The White House directed BuzzFeed News to the State Department to address Russia's denial. Neither the State Department nor the U.S. Mission to the U.N. immediately responded to a BuzzFeed News request for further comment on the matter.
Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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