US and Qatar block Iran’s access to $6 billion from prisoner deal | ET REALITY

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The United States and Qatar agreed to deny Iran access to $6 billion in funds recently transferred to the nation as part of a deal between Washington and Tehran that led to the release of five Americans imprisoned in Iran last month.

Wally Adeyemo, deputy secretary of the Treasury, told House Democrats on Thursday that Iran would no longer have access to the funds, according to a person familiar with the matter. The money was under close supervision and with strict conditions that it be used only for humanitarian purposes.

The move comes amid harsh criticism, primarily from Republicans, that the Biden administration gave Iran access to a huge sum that freed up other funds so Tehran could provide support to Hamas ahead of its attack on Israel during the end of week.

U.S. officials said they had seen no intelligence that Iran had directly helped with the attack and that some senior Iranian officials were caught off guard. But Tehran has been a major backer of Hamas for decades, and opponents of releasing the funds said the fungibility of the money meant the restrictions had little meaning.

It is unclear whether the Biden administration intends to cut off funding permanently or could be taking an interim measure while it gathers more information about Iran’s possible ties to Hamas. It is also unclear whether the action reflects any new analysis by the administration about Iran’s role in the attack. Still, it is sure to infuriate Iran’s leaders after a painstaking prisoner swap that took many months to construct and weeks more to complete.

Speaking to reporters in Tel Aviv on Thursday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken did not confirm that Iran would be denied access to the account. But he noted that “Iran has not spent or accessed in any way any of the funds that have now gone to Qatar.”

Under the terms of last month’s prisoner deal, the money was transferred from South Korean banks, where it accumulated when Seoul bought Iranian oil under a deal with the Trump administration, which choked off most of Iran’s energy exports. But Iran complained that those banks, fearful of being caught up in U.S. sanctions, made it impossible to access the money.

In exchange for Iran’s release of Americans who had been detained for up to eight years, the money was transferred to banks in Qatar to allow Iran to access the funds.

The decision to cut off the funding appears to be a change of course by the Biden administration, which had insisted until recently that the money was not relevant to Hamas’s attack on Israel.

Asked on Sunday about Republican attacks that giving Iran access to money could have allowed it to increase support for Hamas, Blinken rejected the accusation.

“When money is spent from that account, it can only be used on medical supplies, food and medicine,” Blinken said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And those who say otherwise are misinformed or misinformed, and it’s wrong either way.”

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