commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force, Gen. Qassem Suleimani, attending a religious ceremony in Tehran to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Mohammed..
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
The Kremlin on Friday denied that the leader of Iran's elite Quds Force had visited Moscow last month to meet with senior Russian figures, a move that would have constituted a violation of international sanctions and travel restrictions placed on key members of the Iranian regime.
Reports emerged in the US media last week that Qassem Suleimani, whose wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is only answerable to Ayatollah Khameini, and who has emerged as a pivotal on-the-ground figure spearheading Iran's broader regional ambitions in the Middle East, was allegedly in Russia between July 24 and July 26.
The reports prompted US Secretary of State John Kerry to express concern to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in a phone convrsation on Thursday.
Lavrov's deputy, Sergei Ryabkov, denied Friday that Moscow had hosted Suleimani.
“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,” The New York Times
quoted Ryabkov as saying in a briefing.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards' "Al-Quds"unit, over which Suleimani presides, formed in 1980 with the goal of "fighting the Zionist occupation."
However, over the years, its authority was widened and it became Iran's special forces branch tasked with exporting the Islamic Revolution. The force is responsible for training, arming and providing aid to Shi'ite militias in Iraq and Yemen, for Iran's ties to Hezbollah, Hamas and more.
Suleimani is responsible for managing the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and for helping the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.
General Suleimani was sanctioned from a number of directions: First, the US named the Al-Quds Force a terrorist group. He was also put on the blacklist for exporting weapons to Shi'ite militias. The United States in particular has a score to settle with Suleimani because Washington sees him as responsible for the deaths of many American soldiers, caused by his people or their proxy Shi'ite militias in Iraq such as "The Bader Force" and "The Mahdi's Army," which were responsible for IED attacks against American soldiers in the previous decade.
The second reason is his involvement in an attempt (uncovered by the FBI in 2011) to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, who today serves as the Kingdom's foreign minister.
American officials confirmed that indeed his name will be removed from the sanctions list that appears in the nuclear agreement. But in actuality, only the European Union countries will unblacklist him. In the United States, he will remain on the terrorist black list. Because this is an extra-territorial list, the sanctions will apply to all those who hold commercial dealings with him, irregardless of where they reside. Yossi Melman contributed to this report.