State Department Justifies Release of Iranian Funds for Prisoners, with Some Restrictions

The State Department has defended its progress in finalizing a prisoner deal with Iran. This deal involves the release of $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds for humanitarian purposes in exchange for the freedom of five Americans held in Tehran.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken signed waivers on Friday to allow the transfer of the Iranian money, which is currently stored in South Korean accounts, to accounts in Qatar. This transfer complies with U.S. sanctions against Iran and the funds will be subject to American government oversight to ensure they are used solely for humanitarian purposes such as medicine and food.

According to a previous report by The New York Times, Iran has moved the five Americans from prison to house arrest and they will be allowed to return to the United States once the money is fully transferred. The Biden administration has also approved the release of five Iranians currently imprisoned in the United States.

The completion of this deal is expected as early as next week, with Mr. Blinken formally notifying Congress of the waivers on Monday.

The agreement has faced criticism from Republicans who argue that the Biden administration is paying too high a price for the release of the Americans. They also contend that even with close monitoring, the use of the funds for humanitarian needs will ultimately bolster Iran’s clerical government and free up funds for malicious purposes.

Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed his concerns about the transfer of funds in a statement on Monday, referring to Iran as “the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism.” Republican candidate for president, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, criticized the agreement on social media, stating that it “bankrolls nuclear ambitions, hostage takers, and extremists who hate America.” Additionally, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, condemned what he called President Biden’s “ransom” payment to Iran.

In response to these criticisms, the State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, strongly refuted the claims during a daily news briefing. He clarified that the funds being transferred were not American taxpayer money, but rather the proceeds of Iranian oil sales to South Korea. These sales were condoned by the United States under exceptions to economic sanctions, provided that the money owed to Iran was placed in restricted accounts. Mr. Miller emphasized, “It is Iran’s money. So there are people who claim that we are giving money, and we cannot give something that is not ours.”

Mr. Miller also addressed critics who argue that granting Iran access to $6 billion is an excessive reward for the release of several American prisoners. He countered by stating that Iran will not release these citizens out of goodwill, highlighting the harsh conditions they have endured during their imprisonment, with one of them being held for over eight years.

Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, seemed to suggest in an interview with NBC News that the funds will not be restricted, stating that his government will spend the money “wherever we need it.” Mr. Miller dismissed these remarks as political and assured that the money will be held in Qatar under strict oversight by the Treasury Department. He warned that if Iran violates the terms of the deal, the United States has the ability to freeze the funds once again.

This agreement represents a de-escalation in tensions between the United States and Iran, which have been heightened in recent years. Under the Trump administration, the United States withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, causing Iran to accelerate its nuclear program. However, experts suggest that Iran has slowed its nuclear program in response to warnings from the Biden administration.


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