The Biden administration cleared the way for the release of five US citizens detained in Iran by issuing a sweeping waiver for international banks to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds from South Korea to Qatar without fear of US sanctions. Have given. Additionally, 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 the sanctions waivers late last week, a month after US and Iranian officials said a deal in principle had been reached. Congress was not informed of the waiver decision until Monday, according to notification obtained by The Associated Press.
The outlines of the deal had already been announced and discounts were expected. But the notification marked the first time the administration said it was releasing five Iranian prisoners as part of the deal. The names of the prisoners have not been disclosed.
The waivers drew criticism from Republicans and others from President Joe Biden, who said the deal would boost the Iranian economy at a time when Iran poses a growing threat to U.S. troops and Mideast allies.
On Foreign Policy: Will help finance terrorism.” Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas accused Biden of “holding ransom to the state that is the world’s worst sponsor of terrorism.”
Another Iran hawk, Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the waivers are a sign that the administration is secretly working on a broader deal with Iran that includes more than just the release of detainees.
“Today’s news confirms that a side deal has already been reached, including a $6 billion ransom and the release of Iranian operatives,” Cruz said in a statement.
The White House rejected all criticism of the waiver decision, saying it was merely a “procedural step” aimed at fulfilling the temporary agreement reached with Iran in August.
National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said, “What is being done here is an arrangement in which we ensure the release of five wrongfully held Americans.” “This remains a sensitive and ongoing process. “While this is a step in the process, no individuals have been or will be released from U.S. custody this week.”
The waiver means European, Middle Eastern and Asian banks will not violate U.S. sanctions in converting money frozen in South Korea and transferring it to Qatar’s central bank, where it can be processed for Iran’s use to purchase humanitarian goods. Will be kept for.
The $6 billion transfer was a key element of the prisoner release deal that freed four of five American detainees from Iranian prisons under house arrest last month. The fifth prisoner was already under house arrest.
Due to multiple US sanctions on foreign banks carrying out transactions intended to benefit Iran, several European countries had refused to participate in the transfer. Blinken’s exemption is intended to ease his concerns about any risk of US sanctions.
People familiar with the negotiations said they expected those detained to be released early next week.
The US prisoners include Siamak Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and later sentenced to 10 years in prison on internationally criticized espionage charges; Venture capitalist Imad Sharghi sentenced to 10 years; And Iranian-born British-American conservationist Morad Tahbaz was arrested in 2018 and also received a 10-year sentence. The fourth and fifth prisoners could not be identified.
“To facilitate their release, the United States has agreed to release five Iranian nationals currently held in the United States and to transfer approximately $6 billion in restricted Iranian funds held in (South Korea) to restricted accounts in Qatar.” , where funds will be available only for humanitarian trade,” Blinken wrote.
The sanctions exemption applies to banks and other financial institutions in South Korea, Germany, Ireland, Qatar and Switzerland.
“I determine that it is in the national security interest of the United States to waive sanctions with respect to foreign financial institutions under the primary jurisdiction of Germany, Ireland, Qatar, the Republic of Korea, and Switzerland on or after August 9, 2023.” “To the extent that such institutions are required to engage in subsequent transactions, they are notified in writing directly by the U.S. government,” Blinken wrote.
The sanctions waiver applies to transactions involving previously sanctioned entities such as the National Iranian Oil Company and the Central Bank of Iran, including transfers of 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. Is performed. and use the transferred funds for further humanitarian transactions in accordance with written guidance from the US Government,” he wrote.