Russia denies UN-sanctioned Iran general in Moscow 'last week'

AFP , Friday 14 Aug 2015

Maj. Gen. Ghasem Soleimani (Photo: AP)

Russia said Friday that a UN-sanctioned Iranian general was not in Moscow "last week" and said it was surprised at US criticism regarding an alleged visit.

US Secretary of State John Kerry called his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Thursday to express concern about the alleged visit of General Qassem Suleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps' foreign operations.

Suleimani reportedly visited Russia late last month despite being subject to UN-backed international sanctions.

Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov denied that the general had been in Moscow "last week" but did not say whether he had visited before then.

"We were honestly very surprised by these reports, given that we had told our American colleagues last week we did not have such information," Russian news agencies quoted deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Friday.

"Suleimani was not in Moscow last week."

A US State Department spokesman said Wednesday the United States had confirmed a trip had taken place and said US officials would raise their concerns with Russia at an upcoming New York meeting on violent extremism.

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 programmes.

He is also considered a key figure in the provision of military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, which is embroiled in a four-year-old conflict with various rebel groups, and to the Lebanese Shia armed movement Hezbollah.

Despite the recent deal struck by Iran and world powers on its nuclear programme the targeted sanctions against Suleimani and many of his colleagues remain in effect.

In an apparent attempt to dispel US criticism of Russia's ties with Suleimani, Ryabkov accused the United States of having violated UN Security Council resolutions.

"The Americans themselves have committed actions in the past that did not comply with the requirements of the resolution," Ryabkov said.

"Last year they released four Taliban members from Guantanamo, who were on a UN sanctions list, and handed them over to a Middle Eastern country. This is a direct violation of UN Security Council requirements."

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is expected in Moscow next week for an official meeting with Russian officials.

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