(Reuters) Iran's military mastermind is getting defiant.
Gen. Qassem Soleimani ignored a travel ban and sanctions and flew to Russia to meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and President Vladimir Putin, two unnamed Western intelligence sources told Fox News.
It's not clear what the leaders discussed at the July 24 meeting.
Soleimani is a US-designated terrorist. US Secretary of State John Kerry, as he rallies Washington support for the Iran nuclear deal, has assured American officials that Soleimani and his Quds Force would continue to face sanctions from the US Treasury even after UN sanctions are lifted under the deal, Fox reports.
Kerry told Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) on July 29 that US sanctions against Soleimani would never be lifted, according to Fox.
Soleimani reportedly traveled to Russia on a commercial Air Iran flight. He arrived on July 24, a Friday, and left on Sunday.
Fox notes the significance of his visit: "UN sanctions have not yet been lifted against Iran, and Soleimani, as head of the Iranian Quds Force is sanctioned as part of Security Council Resolution 1747. He is prohibited to travel, and any country that lets him transit or travel is defying the sanctions. (Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and would have been aware of this restriction when meeting with him.)"
As US officials have assured Americans that money from Iran sanctions relief wouldn't significantly affect the country's regional activities, critics have pointed to Soleimani's ambitions and reluctance to bow to the nuclear deal.
(REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin)
The Quds Force, the special forces wing of the Iran Revolutionary Guard, has been expanding its influence across the Middle East and getting involved in regional conflicts in Iraq and Syria.
Soleimani has also been spotted on the front lines in Iraq, where he has been playing a major role in commanding Shia militias that have been fighting alongside Iraqi security forces to drive the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh) out of the country.
The Shia militias have emerged as the most effective fighting force against ISIS in Iraq, but some say the Shia fighters aren't much better than the ISIS terrorists they're trying to expunge. (Others, however, have welcomed the Shia militias as the best option for helping Sunni tribal fighters drive ISIS out of Iraq.)
And this isn't the first time Iranian proxies have gotten involved in Iraq — Shia militias commanded by Soleimani killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq during the US invasion.
Russia has also been involved in conflicts in the Middle East by supporting Iran and Syria, which are allies with each other and with Russia.
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