Poll: Majority of Americans Oppose Iran Prisoner Swap

Biden freed up $6 billion for Iran

Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, and Emad Shargi, who were released during a prisoner swap deal between U.S. and Iran, arrive at Doha International Airport, Qatar September 18, 2023. (REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous)
September 18, 2023

A majority of Americans oppose the Biden administration’s decision to award Iran with $6 billion in exchange for several prisoners wrongfully detained in the country, according to a poll.

Fifty-five percent of likely voters said last week they do not approve of the prisoner swap, according to a poll commissioned by the Senate Opportunity Fund, a conservative nonprofit.

Just 28 percent of the 800 national voters polled said they support the prisoner deal, with 17 percent saying they have no opinion. Of those who opposed the deal, 33 percent strongly opposed it, while 22 percent said they "somewhat disapprove."

The findings come as the five Americans released as part of the deal arrive in Qatar on their way back to the United States. The deal has generated fierce pushback among Republicans in Congress and could become an albatross for President Joe Biden as he seeks reelection. Congress was given no oversight over the deal, which many view as a prelude to a new nuclear deal with Tehran that will free up billions more.

The United States granted Iran access to around $6 billion in cash as part of the prisoner swap, money that the hardline regime in Tehran says can be spent in any manner it chooses. When billions were freed up as part of the 2015 nuclear accord, Iran spent much of that money fortifying its nuclear infrastructure, stockpiling missiles, and expanding its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a designated terror group.

After the deal was formalized last week, Iran announced that it is kicking out nuclear inspectors affiliated with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global watchdog in charge of 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."

White House officials declined to comment on the latest move during a press call Sunday but said it would be meeting with European allies about Iran's nuclear program during the U.N. conference this week. A senior White House official also hailed the prisoner swap as a "historic moment" and said it sets the stage for further negotiations with Tehran's hardline regime.

Among self-identified conservatives polled by the Senate Opportunity Fund, an overwhelming 75 percent said they opposed the deal, with just 17 percent saying otherwise. Fifty-one percent of self-identified liberals supported the deal, with 27 percent opposing it. A large portion of moderate voters, 50 percent, also opposed the deal, with 27 percent saying they support it.

"Clearly, the poll indicates strong American concerns about such an agreement and the ramifications it may have," said Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think-tank. "In my view, this means Americans understand the move is self-defeating and will only enrich the Islamic Republic."

The Biden administration first announced the deal with Iran on September 11, the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

"Not only did the administration issue the waiver for Iran, the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, to access these monies on the 22nd anniversary of 9/11, but the phasing of the deal followed the anniversary of the Mahsa protests in Iran," said Taleblu, referring to the massive nationwide protests that erupted across Iran last year following its murder of a young woman. "This rubs salt in the wounds of protesting Iranians who looked to Washington to stand with them and instead now see a deal that can further enable their repression."

The exchange was also inked just ahead of Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi’s arrival in New York City this week to attend the United Nations General Assembly. While in New York City, Raisi will hold several private events with political influencers, including a sit down with the Council on Foreign Relations, a prominent Washington, D.C., think tank.