The US reached an informal understanding with Qatar to hold off distributing $6 billion in oil revenue that Iran was allowed to access under a prisoner exchange, as the Biden administration probes Tehran’s potential involvement in last week’s Hamas attack against Israel.
(Bloomberg) — The US reached an informal understanding with Qatar to hold off distributing $6 billion in oil revenue that Iran was allowed to access under a prisoner exchange, as the Biden administration probes Tehran’s potential involvement in last week’s Hamas attack against Israel.
A person familiar with the matter said the Treasury Department has a tacit agreement with Qatar, which was charged with distributing the money, not to approve applications for funds, which Iranian organizations were meant to be able to spend on medicine and humanitarian goods. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo briefed congressional Democrats on the move earlier Thursday, the person said.
The person asked not to be identified discussing private information. The $6 billion in proceeds from oil sales were transfered from South Korea to Qatar as part of an agreement reached in September to exchange US citizens held in Iranian prisons for several Iranians in US jails.
Treasury didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said none of the money has been spent so far. The news was reported earlier by Punchbowl News.
Biden Weighs Reversal on $6 Billion for Iran After Hamas Attack
“The funds from that account are overseen by the Treasury Department and can only be dispensed for humanitarian goods — food, medicine, medical equipment — and never touch Iranian hands,” Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv. “We have strict oversight of the funds and we retain the right to freeze them.”
Iran said it still had access to the money.
“There has been no change in the issue of Iran’s access to its FX funds in Qatari banks,” Iran’s state-run Nour News reported.
A US official said Wednesday that intelligence agencies still have no evidence to show Iran directed the attack that killed at least 1,200 Israelis. But the agencies believe Iran knew Hamas was plotting some action against Israel, according to the official, who discussed the sensitive intelligence on condition of anonymity.
The money has emerged as a campaign issue for Democratic incumbents running in swing states or states that voted for former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Four candidates — including the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee — have said they support keeping the assets frozen until Iran’s role in the attacks on Israel can be determined.
“Congress’s priority right now must be providing robust military, economic, and humanitarian aid to support Israel as they defend themselves against Hamas’s horrific terrorist attack,” Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio said in a statement. “As we work to hold anyone who supports terrorism accountable, the administration must freeze the $6 billion in Iranian assets.”
–With assistance from Chris Strohm, Viktoria Dendrinou and Iain Marlow.
(Updates with Blinken remarks, details throughout.)
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.