Tue, 05 Dec 2023

Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly said the move would be ?in the national security interest? of the US

The US government has reportedly issued waivers for foreign banks to release $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets as part of a prisoner swap arrangement, which would see several Iranians freed in exchange for Americans held in the Islamic Republic.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken granted the approvals last week, the Associated Press and other outlets reported on Monday, citing a congressional notification from the State Department. The waiver will allow Iran to access funds held in Qatar and South Korea previously frozen under US penalties, with Blinken stating it would be "in the national security interest of the United States to waive the imposition of sanctions."

"The United States has committed to release five Iranian nationals currently detained in the United States and to permit the transfer of approximately $6 billion in Iranian funds held in restricted accounts in the ROK [Republic of Korea] to restricted accounts in Qatar, where the funds will be available only for humanitarian trade," the notice said.

US officials have suggested the assets would come with some strings attached. In comments to reporters last month, National Security Council (NSC) spokesman John Kirby noted the funds would only be available for "food, medicine, [and] medical equipment that would not have a dual military use." He said there would be a "rigorous process" in place to enforce compliance.

The White House has confirmed that there are five Americans in custody in Iran, and acknowledged all are now under house arrest, with four recently released from Tehran's Evin Prison. Three of the detainees have been identified as Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, and Emad Shargi, while the others have requested anonymity.

The detainees could be released as early as next week, according to sources familiar with the negotiations cited by AP. NSC official Adrienne Watson said the talks remain a "sensitive and ongoing process," but added that "no individuals have been or will be released into US custody this week."

Tehran has repeatedly called for an end to US economic penalties, which were ramped up under former President Donald Trump, who withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal struck between Iran, the US, and other world powers. While talks to resume the nuclear pact in exchange for sanctions relief have largely stalled, Kirby previously said the US would welcome any steps by Iran to scale down its nuclear program.

The emerging prisoner swap deal comes amid rising tensions in the Persian Gulf, where Washington has ordered a series of military deployments in recent weeks, including F-35 fighter jets, a guided-missile destroyer, and other warships. Last month, 3,000 American marines and sailors were stationed in the region to deter Iranian forces, the US Navy said, accusing Tehran of "harassment and seizures of merchant vessels."


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