'Rewarding Evil': Senators React to $6 Billion Iran Prison Swap Deal

Senators responded to news that the Biden administration has authorized the transfer of $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds as part of a prisoner swap deal.
'Rewarding Evil': Senators React to $6 Billion Iran Prison Swap Deal
The U.S. Capitol building in Washington on Aug. 18, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Caden Pearson
Jackson Richman

Republicans and Democrats in Congress responded on Monday to news that the Biden administration has authorized the transfer of $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds from South Korea to Qatar through international banks, ensuring no U.S. sanctions apply, as part of a prisoner swap deal.

The move paves the way for the release of five detained American citizens in Iran. In unexpected news, part of the agreement also includes the release of five Iranian citizens held in the United States.

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken approved the sanctions waivers, while Congress was informed of the waiver decision on Monday, The Associated Press reported. The Epoch Times contacted the State Department for confirmation.

While the outline of the deal was previously known, and the waiver expected, it was a surprise to Congress that five Iranians would also be released as part of the deal.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress responded to the news on Monday in comments obtained by The Epoch Times.

"Terrible, terrible strategy," said Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.). "It's the largest payout for the imprisoned that has ever been conceived of. This is rewarding evil with financial remuneration and the Biden administration is way out of bounds on this one."

"I suspect we'll have more people kidnapped pretty soon," said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.). "It's a good deal for the Iranians."

"I think it's par for the course [of the Biden administration]," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). "As we continue to make concessions, whether it's in Iran or Venezuela, all you're doing is encouraging the taking of more Americans."

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said that she was "very upset" that the United States was "getting into hostage negotiations." She noted that the deal "just encourages bad behavior by the Iranians."

The deal has also drawn criticism from Republican lawmakers on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"Today's news confirms there has already been a side deal, including a $6 billion ransom and the release of Iranian operatives," wrote Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). He went on to assert that these revelations represent only the tip of the iceberg regarding the "staggering concessions" made by the Biden administration to the Iranian regime.

Mr. Cruz further alleged that President Biden is poised to transfer an additional $10 billion to Iran, while also allowing them to bypass oil sanctions, potentially resulting in the transfer of "hundreds of billions of dollars" to the Iranian government.

Moreover, Mr. Cruz contended that the Biden administration's inaction over the past two and a half years has enabled Iran to inch closer to possessing a virtual nuclear arsenal.

"The Biden administration must keep their deal secret because if they disclosed it, the law requires them to come to Congress and defend it, and this appeasement is utterly indefensible," he said, adding that the administration "will continue lying about their policies until Congress forces them to do otherwise."

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also took to X, saying the deal, which he described as blackmail, will serve to "finance" the Iranian economy at a time when Iran poses a "terrorism" threat. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) accused President Biden of "desecrat[ing]" the anniversary of 9/11 by “paying ransom to the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism.”

Meanwhile, responding to a question by The Epoch Times, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) welcomed the news, noting that one of the detained U.S. citizens has "deep Connecticut ties."

"I'm glad the President is taking seriously getting our hostages home," Mr. Murphy said. "One of them is ... someone with deep Connecticut ties. He's very fragile. President Biden has made it clear from the beginning [that] getting prisoners home is going to be a priority and I'm glad he's taking the steps to do that."

The sanctions waiver covers banks and financial institutions in South Korea, Germany, Ireland, Qatar, and Switzerland. This exemption ensures that banks from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia can convert and transfer frozen funds from South Korea to Qatar's central bank without violating U.S. sanctions. These funds will be reserved for Iran's humanitarian purchases.

The transfer of the $6 billion was the critical element in the prisoner release deal, which saw four of the five American detainees transferred from Iranian jails into house arrest last month. The fifth detainee had already been under house arrest.

Due to numerous U.S. sanctions on foreign banks that engage in transactions aimed at benefitting Iran, several European countries balked at participating in the transfer. Mr. Blinken’s waiver is aimed at easing their concerns about any risk of U.S. sanctions.

The American prisoners include Siamak Namazi, who was 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; and Morad Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent who was arrested in 2018 and also received a 10-year sentence. The fourth and fifth prisoners were not identified.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This report was updated with additional information.