On Thursday the US House of Representatives in a 307-119 vote passed a bill that would force the White House to permanently freeze $6 billion in Iranian funds released back in September as part of a successful prisoner exchange deal.
"Giving Iran access to these funds for any purpose frees up money for its malign activities, including its support to proxies, like we saw on 7 October, like Hamas," Representative Michael McCaul – who introduced the bill – told reporters.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) speaks in support of the "No Funding For Iranian Terror Act" on the House floor on Nov. 30, 2023. Credit: YouTube/House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans.
The US Senate has introduced similar legislation to freeze the Iranian funds but has yet to pass it out of committee.
Despite the accusations from western officials, Iranian authorities maintain they had no previous knowledge of the plans by Hamas to launch Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and have repeatedly stressed Tehran has no interest in seeing the hostilities expand into a regional war.
In September, Tehran and Washington completed a landmark prisoner exchange deal brokered by Qatar that also saw the transfer of $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds seized by South Korea due to US sanctions.
The billions were transferred by Seoul to the Qatari accounts of several Iranian banks using the SWIFT system, thanks to a sanctions waiver provided by Washington.
Despite US officials claiming in the wake of the deal that they would police the use of the funds, Iranian authorities stressed these would be used to acquire "whatever the Iranian people need."
At the time, Washington-based think tanks considered the deal a softball maneuver by the White House to publicly kickstart the easing of tensions with Tehran. This move was seen as a way to navigate around the resistance of congressional representatives and pressure from Israeli hawks against reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The Neocon wing of the Republicans have long sought to block the Biden move to free up the $6BN, but Thursday's vote had bipartisan support...
"We gave $6 billion in ransom to the Iranian regime to get 5 Americans home and there are now more than 5 Americans held by the Iranians today."@mikepompeo warns that the Biden administration's appeasement of Iran emboldens Hamas. pic.twitter.com/lN90JAacc8— Hudson Institute (@HudsonInstitute) November 30, 2023
Nonetheless, days after the start of the Gaza-Israel war on 7 October, the White House announced Iran "would not be getting the money for the time being." At the time, State Secretary Anthony Blinken said Tehran had not "touched the money yet."