The U.S. is one step closer to a deal to release five Americans held captive by the Iranian regime.
The Biden administration issued a blanket waiver to allow the transfer of $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil funds without fear of U.S. sanctions.
Under the agreement, access to the funds will be transferred from South Korea to a bank in Qatar, and the money is supposed to be limited to the purchase of humanitarian goods like food or medicine.
No money is going directly to Iran and no U.S. taxpayer funds are being used, Fox News reports.
But as CBN News reported, some have still called this a massive ransom payment for American hostages.
The two countries reached a deal on August 10 paving the way for Iran to release the American prisoners in exchange for five Iranians held in the U.S.
The freed Iranians include Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi, Morad Tahbaz, and two unnamed individuals whose families want their identities to remain anonymous.
All five of the prisoners were jailed on charges of spying.
The agreement was the first step in secret talks that have taken more than two years to reach, The New York Times reports.
While Secretary of State Antony Blinken approved the deal last week, the Associated Press reports Congress was not notified until yesterday.
“These funds will be moved to restricted accounts in Qatar, and the United States will have oversight as to how and when these funds are used,” the State Department said in a statement Monday. “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 governments.”
But Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told NBC News that his government will decide how it will spend the $6 billion adding the money will be spent “wherever we need it.”
“This money belongs to the Iranian people, the Iranian government, so the Islamic Republic of Iran will decide what to do with this money,” he said, according to an Iranian government translator.
Experts have warned that the terms of the prisoner exchange allude to a brewing foreign policy nightmare for the U.S.
“It’s good news that American hostages, illegally seized by the regime in Iran, are coming home. But paying $6 billion in ransom payments means the regime will only take more hostages,” explained Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) President Mark Dubowitz. “This has become a lucrative means of international extortion for Iran’s supreme leader.”
He added, “In the real world, where cash is fungible, it will free up $6 billion to be used for terrorism, funding drones for Russia, domestic repression, and nuclear weapons expansion. Only when the regime is severely punished for illegally seizing hostages, not rewarded with billions in ransom payments, will it put a stop to these humanitarian abuses.”
Republicans on Capitol Hill condemned the blanket waiver.
“First Joe Biden used 9/11 as an excuse to flee Afghanistan. Now he desecrates this day by paying ransom to the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism. Shameful,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said in a statement Monday.
It’s ridiculous for [the U.S] to be blackmailed into paying $6B for hostages which will help indirectly finance the number 1 foreign policy of Iran: terrorism. Last time it was $1.7B traded for hostages next time it will probably be $10B the price keeps going up & up,” wrote Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) expressed his concern that the deal now encourages kidnapping.
“This is an example of why we have to go ahead and make it very clear to Americans that they cannot travel to certain places in the world where they are likely to ultimately become a hostage. Until we do that we will constantly be in a set of circumstances” where the United States faces negotiations to free detained Americans, Menendez told reporters Monday.