US politicians condemn Biden administration over Iran prisoner deal

The members of Congress said the administration broke the rules of a key bill on Iran

The members of Congress said the prisoner deal with Iran went against the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. EPA
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Several Republican members of Congress sent a letter to US President Joe Biden on Tuesday, expressing concerns over an emerging deal with Tehran under which five American citizens will be released in exchange for unfreezing Iranian funds.

They said the Biden administration brokered the deal without Congressional approval, in breach of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, a bill passed in 2015, which gave Congress the right to review agreements with Tehran.

“Our citizens deserve answers about why your administration is rewarding an Iranian regime that is targeting Americans overseas and at home,” the members wrote.

“Should the administration continue to ignore US law and flout congressional oversight, we will use all the tools at our disposal to bring transparency and accountability to the American people, and return to a policy of maximum pressure that reverses Iran’s nuclear advancements and deters its targeting of American citizens and servicemembers, support for terrorism, and other malign activities.”

Michael McCaul, chairman of the influential House foreign affairs committee, wrote the letter with House majority leader Steve Scalise and conference chairwoman Elise Stefanik.

This month, Iran released four imprisoned US citizens into house arrest, joining a fifth who had already been under home confinement.

Under the deal, $6 billion in Iranian funds would be unfrozen, and the five Americans would come home.

The Republican officials quickly condemned the deal, saying it would reward Tehran, give it incentive to take other American hostages and that the money could be used to fund Iran's nuclear programme.

“We are deeply concerned that allowing Iran to utilise $6 billion in exchange for innocent Americans creates a direct incentive for future hostage-taking by US adversaries, especially Iran,” they wrote.

Officials in the Biden administration say the money, currently held in South Korea and set to be released through Qatar, will be closely monitored and restricted to humanitarian spending only.

The Iranian regime has long maintained that its nuclear programme is for civilian purposes.

Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo this month called the deal “sad and dangerous”.

“I know the narrative that the funds will be handled by a third-party country and used only for humanitarian purposes, but we have all seen this bad joke before,” Mr Pompeo told the Jerusalem Post.

“If someone agreed to pay for food for your family, you would have money to spend on something else."

Mr Biden, a Democrat who took office in 2021, campaigned on a promise to revive the Iran nuclear deal, from which his Republican predecessor Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.

Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Tehran would agree to limit its nuclear programme in return for economic sanctions relief. But efforts to revive the deal have so far stalled.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr McCaul and another high-ranking Republican member of Congress submitted a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken requesting updates on the investigation into Robert Malley, the US special envoy for Iran, who was placed on leave two months ago.

Updated: August 22, 2023, 9:30 PM