US Okays Prisoner Swap Deal With Iran, To Release $6 Billion In Frozen Iranian Funds

In a big move, US President Joe Biden’s administration has cleared the way for the release of five American citizens detained in Iran by sanctioning waivers for international banks to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian money, as reported by The Associated Press. Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed off on the sanctions waivers late last week, which also includes the release of five Iranian citizens being held in the United States, the report added. The US has issued a blanket waiver for international banks to transfer USD 6 billion in frozen Iranian money from South Korea to Qatar without fear of US sanctions.

Notably, the sanctions waiver is applicable to the banks and other financial institutions in South Korea, Germany, Ireland, Qatar and Switzerland, the report added.

This comes almost a month after the US and Iranian officials said an agreement in principle was in place. The Congress was not informed of the decision until Monday, according to the notification, mentioned the AP. It added that the release of five Iranian prisoners was never told to anyone, adding that the prisoners have not been named.

Ridiculous For US To Be Blackmailed: Biden Admin’s Decision Receives Criticism

Meanwhile, the decision has drawn flak from Republicans and others who are of the view that the deal will boost the Iranian economy at a time when Iran poses an increasing threat to US troops and Mideast allies, the report added.

Taking to X, formerly known as Twitter, US Senator from Iowa, Chuck Grassley 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.” Another Senator, Tom Cotton of Arkansas accused Biden of “paying ransom to the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism”, the report mentioned.

Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the waivers were a sign that “there has already been a side deal including a $6 billion ransom and the release of Iranian operatives”.

White House Rebukes Criticism

Reacting to the criticism, the White House said it was only a “procedural step” aimed at fulfilling the tentative agreement reached with Iran in August.

“What is being pursued here is an arrangement wherein we secure the release of 5 wrongfully held Americans,” said Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, as quoted by the AP. “This remains a sensitive and ongoing process. While this is a step in the process, no individuals have been or will be released into U.S. custody this week”.

According to The AP, Blinken wrote, “To facilitate their release, the United States has committed to release five Iranian nationals currently held in the United States and to permit the transfer of approximately $6 billion in restricted Iranian funds held in (South Korea) to restricted accounts in Qatar, where the funds will be available only for humanitarian trade.”

“I determine that it is in the national security interest of the United States to waive the imposition of sanctions … with respect to foreign financial institutions under the primary jurisdiction of Germany, Ireland, Qatar, the Republic of Korea, and Switzerland that are notified directly in writing by the U.S. government, to the extent necessary for such institutions to engage in transactions occurring on or after August 9, 2023,” Blinken added.

Sanctions waivers apply to transactions involving previously penalized entities such as the National Iranian Oil Company and Central Bank of Iran “to transfer funds from accounts in the Republic of Korea to accounts in Switzerland and Germany and from accounts in Switzerland and Germany to accounts in Qatar, and to use the transferred funds for further humanitarian transactions in accordance with written guidance from the U.S. Government,” he wrote.

What Does Waiver Mean

According to AP, the US waiver means that European, Middle Eastern and Asian banks will not run afoul of sanctions in converting the money frozen in South Korea and then transferring it to Qatar’s central bank. It added that money will be where it will be held in Qatar’s central bank for Iran to use for the purchase of humanitarian goods.

American Prisoners

According to the AP, the American prisoners include the following:

Siamak Namazi: Detained in 2015 and was later sentenced to 10 years in prison on internationally criticized spying charges

Emad Sharghi: A venture capitalist sentenced to 10 years

Morad Tahbaz: a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent who was arrested in 2018 and received a 10-year sentence. The fourth and fifth prisoners were not identified, the report said.

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