WASHINGTON — The State Department said Wednesday that a recent visit to Moscow by the head of Iran’s paramilitary Quds force had violated a United Nations travel ban that has been imposed because of concerns about Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
“We’ve raised this travel with senior Russian Foreign Ministry officials,” said Mark Toner, the deputy State Department spokesman. He added that Russia had not responded to the American complaint, but he underscored that the United States would ask the United Nations Security Council to investigate the trip.
“We intend to work with the Security Council” to ensure that there is “a full, thorough, adequately run investigation, as well as sufficient follow-up,” Mr. Toner said.
The Iranian general at the heart of the complaint is Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, an operative who has the backing of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. General Suleimani has been directing Iran’s military support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and for Shiite militias in Iraq, and is believed to be directing Tehran’s backing for Houthi rebels in Yemen.
A Security Council resolution adopted in 2007 calls for a travel ban on General Suleimani and other Iranian officials because of their links to Iran’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs. That ban is to be lifted after eight years, according to the accord that was negotiated last month on Iran’s nuclear program.
But the fact that General Suleimani has traveled to Moscow has added to worries among some American lawmakers about how rigorously the new agreement, if it takes effect, might be enforced by Russia and other nations.
“It further delegitimizes the deal in the eyes of some members of Congress, including some who are on the fence,” said Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a sharp critic of the agreement.
Even for supporters of the accord, General Suleimani’s travel raises questions about Russia’s intentions. The Obama administration has repeatedly asserted that Russia was helpful in negotiating the nuclear accord. Last month, President Obama called President Vladimir V. Putin to thank him for Russia’s “important role in achieving this milestone,” the administration said in a July statement.
But a closer look at the negotiating record shows that Russia sometimes complicated the Obama administration’s effort. Secretary of State John Kerry has acknowledged that Russia supported Iran’s demand that a United Nations arms embargo on Tehran be lifted immediately.
In the end, a compromise was worked out that calls for lifting the ban on the import and sale of conventional arms in five years and for removing a similar ban on ballistic missile transfers in eight years. But the compromise has made it harder for Mr. Kerry to win support for the agreement among lawmakers, who fear that Iran will use the billions of dollars it would receive in sanctions relief under the agreement to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy in the region.
The purpose of General Suleimani’s trip to Moscow, which he took in late July, according to a report by Fox News, is not clear. While there has been some speculation that he might have discussed potential arms sales by Russia, it seems likely that Syria was on the agenda.
Iran and Russia have backed Mr. Assad and appear to be conferring on a diplomatic initiative on the Syria conflict that Tehran has said it plans to present to the United Nations.
General Suleimani has long been of concern to the United States. In 2011, the Treasury Department put him on its sanctions list after the Obama administration charged that he had been involved in a plot to kill Adel al-Jubeir, a former Saudi ambassador in Washington who is now Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister. The Treasury Department has also subjected him to sanctions for his role in Syria and for the Quds force’s support for the Taliban and other militant groups.
As the leader of Iran’s Quds force, he oversaw the training and equipping of Iraqi Shiite militias that attacked United States troops during the American occupation. More recently, he has traveled openly to Iraq to advise Shiite militias that are fighting the Islamic State, the militant group that has declared a caliphate in much of Iraq and Syria.
“You know, the U.N. sanctions on Suleimani do remain in effect, so we call on all countries to respect and enforce designation made under U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Mr. Toner said.
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(via NY Times)