Five American citizens held hostage by Iran will be released in return for the unfreezing of the $6 billion in funds held in banks in South Korea, the government of the U.S. announced Monday, enraging critics of the Biden administration, particularly as the timing coincided with the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The five U.S. hostages — businessmen Emad Shargi, 58; environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 67; businessman Siamak Namazi, 51; and two anonymous individuals — will be freed once the funds have been transferred from South Korea to an intermediary, Qatar, and then forwarded on to Iran.
Five citizens of Iran held in the United States will also be released.
The deal has been in the works for months and was long expected. Still, Republicans reacted with fury, with former President Donald Trump calling Biden an “incompetent fool” and saying the money would pay for terrorism. Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis echoed some of Trump’s comments and accused Biden of “selling out on America.”
Trump said he never paid to release any hostages and added, “This incompetent FOOL is absolutely destroying America. He dared to announce this terrible deal today, September 11th.”
His GOP rival for the presidency, DeSantis, said, “This deal bankrolls nuclear ambitions, hostage takers, and extremists who hate America.”
Republican Representative from Texas and House Foreign Affairs Committee chair, Michael McCaul, said he was “deeply concerned” by the move and called the announcement timing “particularly egregious.”
“The Americans held by Iran are innocent hostages who must be released immediately and unconditionally,” McCaul said. “However, I remain deeply concerned that the administration’s decision to waive sanctions to facilitate the transfer of $6 billion in funds for Iran, the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism, creates a direct incentive for America’s adversaries to conduct future hostage-taking.”
Rep. McCaul pointed out that Saif al-Adel, an Egyptian who, in February, the U.N. concluded had taken over al-Qaida’s leadership after the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri in a Kabul airstrike is believed to be sheltered by Iran. Iran continues to deny that al-Adel is in the country.
“It’s particularly egregious that this is taking place on the same week as the anniversaries of 9/11 — as Iran is actively harboring the leader of Al Qaeda — and Mahsa Amini’s murder by Iran’s so-called ‘morality police.’ The administration is demonstrating weakness that only further endangers Americans and freedom-loving people around the world,” said McCaul.
Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the deal “shameful.”
“This is the message the Biden Administration is sending to the bloody regime in Tehran as we commemorate 22 years since al-Qaeda’s terrorist attack against our nation,” wrote Rubio on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Shameful.”
Senator from Arkansas, Tom Cotton, used the same adjective.
“First, Joe Biden used 9/11 as an excuse to flee Afghanistan. Now, he desecrates this day by paying ransom to the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism. Shameful.”
Iraq war veteran and Iowa senator Joni Ernst tweeted: “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.’ Biden’s failed strategy of appeasement must end.”
“This will only greenlight Iran’s illicit actions and encourage further hostage ‘diplomacy.’ Biden’s failed strategy of appeasement must end,” continued Ernst.
Former State Department advisor on Iran, Gabriel Noronha, tweeted, “9/11 is one hell of a day to notify Congress you’re transferring $6 billion to the regime harboring Saif al-Adel and the rest of Al-Qaeda’s leadership.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken approved the deal late last week but didn’t notify Congress of the decision until Monday. At the same time, the nation remembered the deadliest attack on American soil in history.
Four of five detainees were moved from Iranian jails to house arrest in a hotel last month. One detainee was already under house arrest.
Some leaders are more accepting of the deal
“There are not good deals w/Iran,” Aaron David Miller, another former State Department advisor, tweeted.
“Only various degrees of bad ones. If you want to free 5 Americans, some unjustly imprisoned for years, what’s the alternative? It’s easy for some in Washington to hand tough, especially if they’re not rotting in Evin prison,” said Miller.
Brittney Griner, the WNBA basketball player released in December after spending almost nine months in a Russian prison, broke down in tears after hearing the news of the Americans’ release. “I’m really happy. And I can’t wait for it to be official and for them to be home with their family,” she said. “I know how much they are waiting for them to be home. I know what it feels like.”
The waiver allows banks to process the transaction without violating any sanctions. It will boost the economy of Iran at a time when Iran poses an increasing threat to Mideast allies and U.S. troops.
Under the deal’s terms, Qatar’s central bank will hold the money for Iran to purchase humanitarian goods.
Because of numerous U.S. sanctions on foreign banks engaging in transactions to benefit Iran, countless European countries had already avoided participating in the transfer.
Secretary Blinken’s waiver aims to ease their concerns about any risk of sanctions by the U.S.