MOSCOW (Reuters) – The head of Iran's elite military Quds Force, who is subject to a United Nations travel ban, has visited Russia, two U.S. security sources said on Friday.
Qassem Soleimani, chief of the force which is an overseas arm of the Revolutionary Guards, has been subject to an international travel ban and asset freeze by the U.N. Security Council since 2007.
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Fox News reported on Thursday that Soleimani had arrived in Moscow on July 24 and met President Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu before departing three days later.
A Kremlin spokesman denied any meeting between Soleimani and Putin had taken place, RIA news agency reported.
One U.S. security source told Reuters the Fox report was true but it was unclear what was discussed at the meeting.
A senior administration official in Washington said U.S. sanctions on Soleimani would remain in place.
"We will maintain sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Qods Force, its leadership – including Qassem Soleimani — and its entire network," the official said.
Two officials at the Russian Foreign Ministry said they could neither confirm nor deny a Soleimani visit to Moscow. The Russian defense ministry was not available for comment.
Washington designated Soleimani's Quds Force as a supporter of terrorism in 2007. The European Union did the same in 2011. Western governments and Israel accuse it of arming various militant groups in the Middle East. U.N. member states are required to deny entry to blacklisted individuals.
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball and additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Writing Jack Stubbs; Editing by Giles Elgood)