Senate Seeks Permanent Freeze on $6 Billion Ransom Payment to Iran

Legislation positions U.S. to seize Iranian funds across the globe

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October 17, 2023

Senate Republicans are taking action to permanently freeze the Biden administration’s $6 billion ransom payment to Iran with legislation that sets the stage for Congress to seize a range of Iranian assets across the globe.

The measure, introduced Tuesday by Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.) with the backing of 20 Republican colleagues, marks the first bid by the upper chamber to lock the $6 billion payment in place, effectively preventing the Biden administration from making it available to Iran at a later date, according to a copy of the legislation obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

U.S. officials say they reached a "quiet understanding" with Qatar, where the money is being held, to keep it on standby amid outrage over Iran’s role in funding and directing Hamas’s mass slaughter of Israelis last weekend. Congressional Republicans, however, say the Biden administration is not going nearly far enough to cut off Tehran’s access to financial assets, particularly as it rallies regional militant groups behind Hamas.

The bill is just one example of efforts in Congress to close off avenues the Biden administration could use to route money to Iran. Similar legislation is circulating in the Republican-controlled House, and with concerns about Iran’s terrorist enterprise mounting on both sides of the aisle, it is possible Congress will nullify the Biden administration’s November hostage deal.

"The Biden administration’s decision to release $6 billion to Iran—the world’s leading state sponsor of terror—was a grave mistake that created a market for American hostages, emboldened our adversaries, and put a credit on the balance sheets of one of Hamas’s biggest backers," Scott, the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, told the Free Beacon. "In the wake of Hamas’s horrific attacks on Israel, it has only become clearer that this rogue regime cannot be trusted as long they continue to support terrorist organizations."

The legislation, dubbed the Revoke Iranian Funding Act, uses Congress’s power over the purse to permanently refreeze the $6 billion in assets, which were released from a South Korean bank and placed in Qatar after the Biden administration issued several sanctions exemptions.

The executive-branch-authored licenses would be revoked under the legislation, effectively barring Qatar or any other nations from moving them back to Iran.

The legislation also sets the stage for Congress to target other Iranian assets held across the globe.

It directs the Treasury Department to study "all high-value Iranian assets around the world" and provide Congress with a detailed list of where they are stored, according to information about the bill circulated by Scott’s office.

This would allow Congress to tailor new sanctions aimed at choking off these assets and prevent Iran from using them to fund Hamas, or its other terrorist proxies, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.

That provision is key, Scott said, to "ensuring Congress has the information necessary to prevent Iran from accessing funds in the future. We must be unequivocal that the United States will not back down and waive sanctions on frozen Iranian funds held by other nations."