White House official says prisoner swap deal with Iran is 'not ransom'

Senior White House official says $6 billion in unfrozen Iranian funds will be subject to stringent oversight

A mural in Washington shows Iranian-American citizen Siamak Namazi, left, who has held in Iran since 2015. AP
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The White House on Wednesday denied that the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iran funds is a ransom payment for the release of five American citizens from Tehran, saying it would ultimately benefit the Iranian people, not the regime.

John Kirby, the White House National Security spokesman, said Iran would have to submit requests to withdraw the funds from banks in Qatar. The funds will also be subject to strict oversight and can only be used for humanitarian purposes.

“This is not a payment of any kind, this is not ransom,” Mr Kirby told journalists during a regular news briefing.

“It's not $6 billion all at once – they will have to make a request for withdrawals for humanitarian purposes only and there will be sufficient oversight to make sure that their requests are valid.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Iran's news agency Irna reported that five Iranian citizens detained in the US would be released in exchange for five Americans held by Tehran.

The development came after the administration of President Joe Biden issued a waiver for international banks to transfer the $6 billion in frozen money from South Korea to Qatar.

But Republican officials have condemned the deal, saying it will reward Tehran and give it incentive to take other American hostages. They also say the money could be used to fund Iran's nuclear programme.

Since taking office in 2021, Mr Biden, a Democrat, has sought to revive the Iran nuclear deal, from which his Republican predecessor Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.

Under the principles of 2015's Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief. But efforts to revive the deal have so far stalled.

“Iran will be getting no sanctions relief. We will continue to counter Iran regime's human rights abuses, their destabilising actions abroad, support for terrorism and attacks on maritime shipping in the Gulf,” Mr Kirby said.

“The Iranian people will be the beneficiaries of these funds, not the regime.”

Iran released four jailed US citizens to house arrest last month, joining a fifth who had already been under home confinement.

Three have been named so far: Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz. The identities of the other two Americans have not been disclosed.

Mr Kirby did not provide an exact date or timeline as to when the group would be arriving home.

“When you're trying to bring Americans home, you are often not dealing with level playing field,” Mr Kirby said.

“You have to use the leverage you have to bring them home. They are not going to be released for nothing in exchange. ”

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Updated: September 13, 2023, 7:45 PM