Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi says the Iranian government will spend the $6 billion it gained in a prisoner exchange with the U.S., “wherever we need it.”
Raisi made the comments in an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt on Tuesday after coming to an agreement with the U.S. to release five American prisoners. In exchange, the U.S. will release five Iranian citizens and unfreeze $6 billion in Iranian oil assets previously locked up in South Korean banks due to U.S. sanctions.
“This money belongs to the Iranian people, the Iranian government, so the Islamic Republic of Iran will decide what to do with this money,” Raisi said Tuesday. “Humanitarian means whatever the Iranian people needs, so this money will be budgeted for those needs and the needs of the Iranian people will be decided and determined by the Iranian government.”
Under the deal, Iran will only have access to the funds through Qatar’s central bank, and U.S. officials say the bank will ensure Iran only uses the funds for humanitarian purposes.
The deal has garnered some criticism. Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who focuses on Iranian security, argued that releasing the funds “will only feed Tehran’s appetite to keep taking hostages.”
“And as the case of the recently revealed Swedish diplomat illustrates, dual-nationals and foreign citizens are not the only targets. Tehran even intends to extort foreign government officials!” he said.
“Indeed, the Islamic Republic showcased for the world a willingness to take hostages less than a year since its inception. Worse, freeing-up the $6 billion forgets why it was frozen in the first place. Even the Obama administration, who signed sanctions bills into law creating those escrow accounts, did not trust Iran to stop funding its nuclear or military programs using oil money,” he added.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, expressed skepticism that Iran will actually use the funds for humanitarian projects.
“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'” Ernst wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Biden’s failed strategy of appeasement must end.”
Adrienne Watson, National Security Council spokesperson, said in a statement, “On September 8, Secretary Blinken undertook a procedural step in an ongoing process to ensure Iranian funds can move from one restricted account to another and remain restricted to humanitarian trade. As we have said from the outset, what is being pursued here is an arrangement wherein we secure the release of 5 wrongfully held Americans. This remains a sensitive and ongoing process. While this is a step in the process, no individuals have been or will be released into U.S. custody this week. We have kept Congress extensively informed from the outset of this process – long before today – and we will continue to do so, including with additional already scheduled briefings this week.”
Iran has not publicly provided a timeline for the release of the American prisoners. Raisi says each of them are in good health, however, and that they will be released in “due time.”