On Friday, September 8th, 2023 Secretary of State Anthony Blinken signed waivers and alerted Congress to initiate the process of transferring the sanctioned $6 billion of Iranian funds (State Department Press Briefing). Days later, on Tuesday, September 12th, 2023, Matthew Miller spokesman for the U.S. Department of State, addressed the negotiation in a press briefing. The Iranian funds are held in accounts out of South Korea and the transfer is set to go through European accounts for exchange before finally into accounts in Qatar (State Department Press Briefing). Miller states that once the money hits Qatari accounts, the $6 billion is to have limitations on its use. The limitations include use on humanitarian transactions and will have strict oversight from the U.S. Treasury Department (State Department Press Briefing). Humanitarian transactions include the purchasing of food, medicine, hygiene or personal care items and shelter (State Department Press Briefing).
It is understood that the $6 billion was originally sanction under the previous administration after the 2015 failure of Iran’s nuclear deal (AP News). The Obama administration allowed Iran access to those funds to be spent for the purpose of purchasing oil from countries like India and Brazil and gave no restrictions (State Department Press Briefing). The Obama administration did not collect records on how Iranian money was being spent since it is not a requirement to keep records. However, according the State Department Press Briefing, the money was allowed to be spent on more than just humanitarian purposes.
Along with the transfer of the $6 billion is the release of five Iranian prisoners held by the U.S. for the exchange of five American citizens imprisoned in Iran (State Department Press Briefing). The five Iranian prisoners announced were Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, Mehrdad Ansari, Amin Hasanzadeh, Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani and Kambiz Attar Kashani. Of the Iranian prisoners, all had been arrested on federal charges of infringing on U.S. sanctions placed on Iran or giving Tehran help in other unlawful ways (VOA News). Afrasiabi and Hasanzadeh are established U.S. citizens, Ansari and Kafrani have no legitimate status in the United States and Kashani is a dual citizen of Iran and America. According to the trade deal, Afrasiabi, Hasanzadeh and Kafrani would have federal charges dropped and be able to go unsupervised outside their homes (VOA News). For Ansari and Kashani, who are federal prisoners serving sentences in Louisiana and Michigan, they would be given early release. Of the five American prisoners being released, only three names have been released: Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz (VOA News). The other two prisoners have asked for privacy. The American prisoners who have been identified and named were claimed to be charged with espionage-related crimes (Al Jazeera).
The exchange officially took place on September 18th between Tehran and Washington with the mediation of Qatar and Oman. Iran also confirmed their access to the $6 billion released and are now considering this trade situation a win on their side (Al Jazeera). After assumptions were made, the Biden administration made a statement that the $6 billion is not ransom money for the American hostages as it has been Iranian money all along (VOA News). According to AP News, Americans continue to lay claim to the idea of the Iranian money being spent on allied militia groups in the middle east or to their nuclear program. Recent activity of Iranian backed groups like Hamas and Hezbollah strengthen this argument.
Lipin, M. (2023, September 11) US agrees to free 5 Iranians in prisoner swap as Iran confirms names to VOA. VOANews. https://www.voanews.com/a/us-moves-to-advance-prisoner-swap-deal-with-iran-release-6-billion-in-frozen-iranian-funds-/7263928.html#:~:text=New%20details%20have%20emerged%20of,Iranian%20government%20confirmed%20to%20VOA.
Gambrel, J. (2023, September 13) Iran-US prisoner swap for billions reveals familiar limits of diplomacy between nations. APNews. https://apnews.com/article/iran-us-tensions-prisoner-swap-analysis-e168c0bd2f15e794caa0079a0a97b251
Miller, M. (2023, September 12) Department press briefing. U.S. Department of State. https://www.state.gov/briefings/department-press-briefing-september-12-2023/#post-479248-IRAN
Motamedi, M. (2023, September 19) How was the Iran-US prisoner exchange received in Tehran. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/9/19/how-was-the-iran-us-prisoner-exchange-received-in-tehran
VOA News. https://www.voanews.com/a/us-moves-to-advance-prisoner-swap-deal-with-iran-release-6-billion-in-frozen-iranian-funds-/7263928.html#:~:text=New%20details%20have%20emerged%20of,Iranian%20government%20confirmed%20to%20VOA.
State Department Press Briefing. https://www.state.gov/briefings/department-press-briefing-september-12-2023/#post-479248-IRAN