Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the $6 billion in Iranian funds expected to be unfrozen in the U.S. prisoner swap with Iran have remained unspent, pushing back against suggestions that the Biden administration’s deal may have contributed to Hamas’s recent attacks on Israel.
“The facts are these — no U.S. taxpayer dollars were involved,” Blinken said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “These were Iranian resources that Iran had accumulated from the sale of its oil that were stuck in a bank in South Korea. They have had from day one, under our law, under our sanctions, the right to use these monies for humanitarian purposes.”
“From one account to another in another country to facilitate that use,” Blinken continued. “As of now, not a single dollar has been spent from that account.”
Blinken’s comments follow Palestinian militant group Hamas’s onslaught of attacks against Israel on Saturday that left hundreds of people dead and thousands of others wounded.
Maintaining there is not yet any evidence showing Iran directed the attacks against Israel, Blinken pointed to the “long relationship” between the country and Hamas.
“There’s a long relationship between Iran and Hamas,” Blinken said. “In fact, Hamas wouldn’t be around in the way that it is without the support that it’s received from Iran over the years.”
“It’s one of the reasons why we have been resolutely … against Iran and its support for terrorists and terrorist groups over the last few years of this administration,” he continued.
Last month, the Biden administration agreed to unfreeze $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds in exchange for the freedom of five wrongfully detained American citizens.
In doing so, the Biden administration granted clemency to five Iranians and issued a blanket waiver for international banks to allow the transfer of $6 billion of Iranian oil sale proceeds, frozen in South Korea, to a bank in Qatar.
The funds were proceeds from Iran’s oil sales that were frozen by the U.S. when relations between the two countries faltered.
U.S. officials said the funds were to be used only for food, medicine and other humanitarian goods, a point Blinken emphasized Sunday.
“And, again, the account is closely regulated by the U.S. Treasury Department, so it can only be used for things like food, medicine, medical equipment,” Blinken said. “That’s what this is about.”
The deal drew criticism, with some Republicans arguing the move would free up resources for Iran’s military spending and support of terrorism.
In a separate interview on NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday, Blinken was pressed on whether Iran used other funds to support the attacks in anticipation of the funds being unfrozen.
“Iran has, unfortunately, always used and focused its funds on supporting terrorism, on supporting groups like Hamas,” Blinken said. “And it’s done that when there have been sanctions. It’s done that when there haven’t been sanctions. And it’s always prioritized that. And, again, I come back to the proposition that these funds have always been, under the law, available to Iran to use for humanitarian purposes.”