Five American citizens being held hostage by Iran will be released in return for the unfreezing of $6 billion held in South Korean banks, the U.S. government announced on Monday – enraging Biden administration critics, particular as the timing coincided with the anniversary of 9/11.
The five U.S. hostages – businessmen Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Shargi, 58; environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 67; and two anonymous people- will be freed once the money has been transferred from South Korea to an intermediary, Qatar, and then to Iran.
Five Iranian citizens held in the U.S. will also be released.
The deal has been months in the works and was long expected, but Republicans reacted with fury – with Donald Trump saying the money would pay for terrorism and calling Biden an ‘incompetent fool’, and Ron DeSantis accusing Biden of ‘selling out on America.’
Trump said he had never paid to release any hostages, and added: ‘This incompetent FOOL is absolutely destroying America. He had the audacity to announce this terrible deal today, September 11th.’
His Republican rival for the presidency, DeSantis, said: ‘This deal bankrolls nuclear ambitions, hostage takers, and extremists who hate America.’
Businessman Emad Shargi (left) and British-born environmentalist Morad Tahbaz are two of the U.S. citizens transferred from prison to house arrest before a possible deal
Siamak Namazi, 51, will also be released. His family said they were grateful he was out of prison, but that they would not rest until he was home after eight years in captivity
Michael McCaul, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a Republican representing Texas, said he was ‘deeply concerned’ by the move, and called the timing of the announcement ‘particularly egregious’.
‘The Americans held by Iran are innocent hostages who must be released immediately and unconditionally,’ McCaul said.
‘However, I remain deeply concerned that the administration’s decision to waive sanctions to facilitate the transfer of $6 billion in funds for Iran, the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism, creates a direct incentive for America’s adversaries to conduct future hostage-taking.’
McCaul pointed out that Saif al-Adel – an Egyptian who the UN in February concluded had taken over al-Qaida’s leadership after the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri in an airstrike in Kabul – is believed to be sheltered by Iran.
Iran has denied that al-Adel is in the country.
‘It’s particularly egregious that this is taking place on the same week as the anniversaries of 9/11 – as Iran is actively harboring the leader of Al Qaeda – and Mahsa Amini’s murder by Iran’s so-called ‘morality police.’
‘The administration is demonstrating weakness that only further endangers Americans and freedom-loving people around the world.’
A view of the entrance of Evin prison in Tehran, Iran, where the Americans were held
The Biden administration has cleared the way for the release of five American citizens detained in Iran by issuing a blanket waiver for international banks to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian money from South Korea to Qatar without fear of U.S. sanctions
Marco Rubio, a senator for Florida who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the deal was ‘shameful’.
‘This is the message the Biden Administration is sending to the bloody regime in Tehran as we commemorate 22 years since al-Qaeda’s terrorist attack against our nation,’ he wrote on X.
Tom Cotton, senator for Arkansas, used the same adjective.
‘First Joe Biden used 9/11 as an excuse to flee Afghanistan. Now he desecrates this day by paying ransom to the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism. Shameful.’
Iowa senator Joni Earnst, an Iraq war veteran, tweeted: ‘President Biden is going through with his $6 BILLION payout to the IRGC and its proxies.
‘This will only greenlight Iran’s illicit actions and encourage further hostage ‘diplomacy’. Biden’s failed strategy of appeasement must end.’
Gabriel Noronha, a former State Department advisor on Iran, tweeted: ‘9/11 is one hell of a day to notify Congress you’re transferring $6 billion to the regime harboring Saif al-Adel and the rest of Al-Qaeda’s leadership.’
Secretary of State Antony Blinken approved the deal late last week, but Congress was not notified of the decision until Monday – as the nation remembered the deadliest attack on American soil in history.
Last month four of the five detainees were moved from Iranian jails to house arrest in a hotel. One was already under house arrest.
Some politicans were more accepting of the deal.
‘There are no good deals w/Iran,’ tweeted Aaron David Miller, another former State Department advisor.
‘Only various degrees of bad ones. If you want to free 5 Americans some unjustly imprisoned for years, what’s alternative?
‘It’s easy for some in Washington to hang tough, especially if they’re not rotting in Evin prison.’
Brittney Griner, the basketball player released in December after almost nine months in a Russian prison, broke down in tears on hearing the news of the Americans’ release.
‘I’m really happy. And I can’t wait for it to be official, and for them to be home with their family,’ she said.
‘I know how much they are waiting for them to be home. I know what it feels like.’
The waiver – which allows banks to process the transaction, without violating sanctions – will boost the Iranian economy at a time when Iran poses a growing threat to U.S. troops and Mideast allies.
Under the terms of the deal, Qatar’s central bank will hold the money for Iran to use for the purchase of humanitarian goods.
Due to numerous U.S. sanctions on foreign banks that engage in transactions aimed at benefitting Iran, several European countries had balked at participating in the transfer.
Blinken’s waiver is aimed at easing their concerns about any risk of U.S. sanctions.