Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the Biden administration's $6 billion transfer to Iran in an interview Wednesday, saying the regime has "actually been entitled to use the money all along."
"From day one for our sanctions, this has always been exempt, being able to use money, including by Iran, for humanitarian purposes, it has always been exempt from our sanctions. They’ve actually been entitled to use the money all along, but for practical, technical reasons, they weren’t able to," Blinken told CBS Mornings host Tony Dokoupil.
Many have criticized President Joe Biden's prisoner exchange with Iran—which brought five Americans home from Iranian prison Monday at the cost of releasing five Iranian detainees and the United States waiving sanctions to allow the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian funds—arguing the deal will "free up funds for Iran’s malign activities."
"Even though the administration claims these funds are limited to humanitarian transactions, we all know that transactions are difficult to monitor and that money is fungible. There is no question this deal will free up funds for Iran’s malign activities," Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, said.
Blinken responded to those fears by assuring viewers that the Biden administration has "clear visibility" over how Iran spends the money.
"We made an arrangement with the bank in question, this is a bank in Qatar, to make sure that we would have clear visibility over the way the money is spent," he said. "And if it’s not being spent for humanitarian reasons, it’s not being spent for food, medicine, other things, it will get shut down."
Republicans in Congress also argue the return of these Americans came at too high a cost and will incentivize Tehran to take more American hostages.
"I am always glad when Americans are released from captivity," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), said. "However, this agreement will entice rogue regimes, like Iran, to take even more Americans hostage. The ayatollah and his henchmen are terrorists and truly represent a terrorist state."
Blinken, in Wednesday's interview, insisted that Iran was entitled to the released funds because they were proceeds from the regime's oil sales.
"Again, even allowing for that, these monies, these proceeds from Iran’s oil sales, they’ve always been entitled to use. ... But the other thing is, whether we like it or not—and we don’t like it—the Iranians have always found ways to use money, whether there are sanctions or not, for military purposes. And we are taking steps every single day around the world to try to stop or disrupt the kinds of things that they’re engaged in—support for terrorism, destabilizing countries."
Last week, after the deal was formalized, Iran said it was barring access from nuclear inspectors affiliated with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global watchdog charged with ensuring Iran does not build a nuclear bomb.
"Iran has effectively removed about one third of the core group of the Agency’s most experienced inspectors designated for Iran," IAEA director Rafeal Grossi said in a statement. "Without effective cooperation, confidence and trust will continue to be elusive and the Agency will not be in a position to discharge effectively its verification mandate in Iran and provide credible assurances that nuclear material and activities in Iran are for peaceful purposes."