Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Biden Administration Takes Steps to Free Up $6 Billion in Iranian Funds in Prisoner-Swap Deal.

U.S. waiver of some Iran sanctions would allow the release of frozen Iranian funds held in South Korea

WASHINGTON—The Biden administration issued a waiver for international banks to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian money from South Korea to Qatar without running afoul of U.S. sanctions, a possible step toward the release of five American citizens detained in Iran. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken notified lawmakers of the waiver of certain Iran sanctions, according to a letter to Congress dated Monday. The release of funds is seen as paving the way for Iran to potentially free five Americans and the U.S. to free as many Iranians. 

“To facilitate their release, the United State has committed to release five Iranian nationals currently detained in the United States and to permit the transfer of approximately $6 billion in Iranian funds held in restricted accounts in the ROK (Republic of Korea) to restricted accounts in Qatar, where the funds will be available only for humanitarian trade,” Blinken’s letter to lawmakers says. 

Iran’s representative to the United Nations didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Republican lawmakers criticized the deal. 

“The Americans held by Iran are innocent hostages who must be released immediately and unconditionally,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R., Texas) said in a statement. “However, I remain deeply concerned that the administration’s decision to waive sanctions to facilitate the transfer of $6 billion in funds for Iran, the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism, creates a direct incentive for America’s adversaries to conduct future hostage-taking.”

A State Department spokesman said Washington will have oversight on when and how the funds are used. “It is longstanding U.S. policy to ensure our sanctions do not prevent food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods and services from flowing to ordinary people, no matter how objectionable their government,” the spokesman said.

“Secretary Blinken undertook a procedural step in an ongoing process to ensure Iranian funds can move from one restricted account to another and remain restricted to humanitarian trade,” said Adrienne Watson, spokeswoman for the National Security Council. “As we have said from the outset, what is being pursued here is an arrangement wherein we secure the release of five wrongfully held Americans. This remains a sensitive and ongoing process.”

A deal to swap prisoners could be announced as early as next week.

The latest attempt at diplomacy with Iran represents a balancing act for the Biden administration and is focused on cooling tensions with Tehran that have soared this year. Iran has provided drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine, pushed ahead with uranium enrichment and seized oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.

Iran in mid-Aug…