The United States cleared the way for $6 billion in oil revenue to be returned to Iran and agreed to release five Iranians as part of a negotiated deal. to secretly pave the way for five American citizens detained in Iran to return to their homes.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken notified Congress on Monday of an exemption that will allow German, Irish, Qatari, South Korean and Swiss banks to move US$6 billion out of South Korea without fear of violating US sanctions. It said the $6 billion would be held in restricted accounts in Qatar, where it would “only be used for humanitarian trade,” according to a copy of the announcement.
An Iranian government spokesman said Monday that he expected the transfer of the frozen funds to be completed in the “coming days.” The letter to Congress did not say when the prisoner exchange would take place.
Adrienne Watson, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement that “what is sought here is an agreement in which we secure the release of five unjustly detained Americans. This remains a delicate and ongoing process. While this is a step in the process, no one has been released or released from US custody this week. ”
US officials announced the outline of the deal in early August after Iran moved four US citizens from prison to house arrest. Among the American detainees is Siamak Namazi, who has been imprisoned in Evin Prison in Tehran since October 2015.
At the time, US officials refused to describe the details of the deal, saying that revealing more risks upsetting a delicate process that could still be resolved. They are also cautious about recognizing talks with a regime that has exacerbated human rights abuses and continues to supply weapons and other materials to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Blinken signed the waiver on Friday. A State Department spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said the Biden administration would not lift any sanctions. against Iran and it will not provide any sanctions relief as part of the agreement.
However, People familiar with the matter said the United States and Iran had been engaged in tentative diplomacy for months. and secrecy led the two sides to move slowly toward an informal understanding in which Tehran would release the Americans and possibly impose limits on its nuclear program.
It is part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to restore at least some of the restrictions Iran agreed to under the terms of a 2015 nuclear deal., the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan. President Donald Trump abandoned that agreement in 2018.
Republicans and some Democrats in Congress have criticized the Biden administration’s attempt at new diplomacy with Iran., saying it would only encourage the regime to imprison more Americans and continue its nuclear development. Iran denies that it has any plans to acquire nuclear weapons.
Watson of the National Security Council said that “”We keep Congress fully informed,” even with additional briefings already scheduled this week.