US Secretary of State John Kerry called his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Thursday to express concern about a visit to Moscow by the commander of Iran’s covert revolutionary forces, a senior State Department official said.
Major General Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ foreign operations, reportedly visited Russia late last month despite being subject to international sanctions, including a United Nations travel ban since 2007.
A State Department spokesman said Wednesday the United States had confirmed the trip had taken place, and said US officials would raise their concerns with Russia at an upcoming New York meeting on violent extremism.
“Secretary Kerry also raised his concerns about the travel to Moscow by IRGC Commander Qassem Suleimani,” the senior official said Thursday, outlining a call between the two diplomats.
Suleimani is one of several Iranian officials targeted by a 2007 United Nations travel ban because of their alleged links to Iran’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs.
Despite the recent deal struck by Iran and world powers on its nuclear program, the sanctions against Suleimani and many of his colleagues remain in effect.
Suleimani has also been sighted visiting Iranian-backed forces in Iraq, and Shiite and Kurdish units fighting the Islamic State jihadists group alongside government forces.
A State Department official said Washington was seeking a UN investigation into the covert trip, according to The New York Times.
“We’ve raised this travel with senior Russian Foreign Ministry officials,” said deputy spokesman Mark Toner.
“We intend to work with the Security Council,” Toner said, for “a full, thorough, adequately run investigation, as well as sufficient follow-up.”
During his trip, Suleimani met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, reportedly to discuss Moscow’s planned supply of advanced air defense missiles to the Islamic Republic after it froze shipments of the S-300 missile system in 2010 due to UN sanctions on Iran.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was scheduled to travel to Moscow next week in the latest in a series of visits to the Russian capital by top regime officials.
Russia and Iran also held a joint naval exercise in the Caspian Sea on Tuesday as part of a visit by two Russian Buyan-class corvettes to the region, the semi-official Iranian Fars News Agency reported. Russian warships Volgodonsk and Makhachkala berthed in Anzali Port on August 9 for a three-day stay.
Russia and the Islamic Republic have traditionally been strong trading partners, particularly in the fields of military hardware and gas and oil exports, but trade dwindled as Russia implemented international sanctions from 2010 onward. Russia has recently maneuvered to also improve ties with Iran’s regional foe, Saudi Arabia.