Pressure Mounts on Biden Admin to Put the Brakes On $6 Billion Payment to Iran

Ransom payment under renewed scrutiny following Hamas attack

Biden, Iran's Ali Khamenei (Win McNamee and Majid/Getty Images)
October 11, 2023

Congressional pressure is mounting on the Biden administration to put the brakes on its $6 billion payout to Iran in the wake of Hamas’s unprecedented weekend attack on Israel, an operation that was carried out with support from Tehran.

"Nearly two months after Hamas’s banker, Iran, received billions of dollars, Hamas launched a massive, unprovoked war on Israel," Rep. Bryan Steil (R., Wis.) wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to the White House and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "Arguing that these two events are unrelated strains credulity."

Steil is one of many lawmakers in both the House and Senate who are pressing the Biden administration to enact a wholesale shift in its policy towards Iran, arguing that its support for Hamas’s most recent terrorism campaign shows it cannot be trusted to negotiate in good faith. While the White House is going to great lengths to claim the $6 billion ransom payment is wholly separate from the Hamas strike, lawmakers and analysts disagree, saying that by freeing up more cash for Tehran the Biden administration helped the regime divert funds to its terror proxies.

"Now more than ever we must demonstrate our ironclad commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship and our mutual stand against terrorism," Steil wrote in his letter to the White House. "Denying the Iranian regime funding means it has less money to spend on terror, missiles, and proxies like Hamas."

Democrats have made similar calls in recent days, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) saying Biden "should absolutely freeze Iranian assets."

While Biden has said he is considering his options as it relates to the $6 billion payout, the White House has not yet signaled that any action is currently on the table.

The White House declined to comment on its plans for the $6 billion. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also declined to comment on it when pressed by reporters at a Tuesday press briefing, saying only, "Not a dollar of that money has been spent, and I will leave it at that."

The $6 billion in assets are currently being held in Qatar, with the White House claiming they can only be accessed for food and medicine, though Iran has said it can be spent on whatever the government chooses. If Biden were to go back on the deal, he would have to issue fresh sanctions to freeze the funds in place.

In addition to the $6 billion ransom, the Biden administration’s sanctions enforcement policies during the past several years have been put under a microscope. Upon entering office in 2021, President Joe Biden reopened diplomatic channels with Iran and began relaxing sanctions on the country’s illicit oil trade in a bid to cajole the regime into talks.

Iran has generated around $80 billion in oil profits since the Biden administration took office, the Free Beacon reported on Tuesday, money that has enabled Tehran to fund and arm groups like Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Both terror groups are currently warring with Israel and likely have the resources to do so thanks to their patrons in Iran.

"The recent aggression by Hamas underscores the need to enforce our financial sanctions and deny revenue to the largest state sponsor of terrorism, Iran," Steil wrote. "[Y]our administration has continued to allow the Iranian regime to evade U.S. sanctions by allowing them to move large amounts of sanctioned crude oil to countries like China with no repercussions."

If this policy continues, the United States will "give Iran more revenue to fund the regime’s destabilizing activities."

Steil is requesting the White House provide him with a detailed list about any and all sanctions waivers or licenses that have been granted in recent months allowing financial transactions with the Iranian government.

In addition to unfreezing $6 billion in funds, the administration has issued sanctions waivers allowing Iraq to pay Iran upwards of $10 billion for electricity and other debts. This cash has served as another lifeline for Tehran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the paramilitary fighting force that provides logistical support to Hamas and Hezbollah.

Steil also asked for a White House briefing on the rationale for granting these waivers and licenses granting Tehran access to cash.

"Given the urgency of the situation I urge you to respond as soon as possible," he wrote. "Innocent lives remain in grave danger as Hamas attacks continue."