US moves to advance prisoner swap deal with Iran and release $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds
The Biden administration has cleared the way for the release of five American citizens detained in Iran by issuing a blanket waiver for international banks to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian money from South Korea to Qatar without fear of U.S. sanctions. In addition, as part of the deal, the administration has agreed to release five Iranian citizens held in the United States.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed off on the sanctions waivers late last week, a month after U.S. and Iranian officials said an agreement in principle was in place. Congress was not informed of the waiver decision until Monday, according to the notification, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
The outlines of the deal had been previously announced and the waiver was expected. But the notification marked the first time the administration said it was releasing five Iranian prisoners as part of the deal. The prisoners have not been named.
The waiver drew criticism of President Joe Biden from Republicans and others who say the deal will boost the Iranian economy at a time when Iran poses a growing threat to U.S. troops and Mideast allies.
On X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said “it’s ridiculous for US to be blackmailed into paying $6B for hostages which will help indirectly finance the number 1 foreign policy of Iran: terrorism.” Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas accused Biden of “paying ransom to the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism.”
Another Iran hawk, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the waivers were a sign the administration was secretly pursuing a broader deal with Iran to include more than the release of the detainees.
“Today’s news confirms there has already been a side deal including a $6 billion ransom and the release of Iranian operatives,” Cruz said in a statement.
The White House pushed back on all criticism of the waiver decision, saying it was only a “procedural step” aimed at fulfilling the tentative agreement reached with Iran in August.