Five Americans held hostage in Iran will soon return home after President Biden agreed to release the same number of Iranian prisoners in the US and unfreeze $6 billion in Tehran assets, the White House announced today.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby confirmed this development. Iranian state media, as well as CNN, broadcasted footage of these five Americans boarding the aircraft destined to extricate them from the Islamic Republic.
Kirby affirmed, “They are in the air,” he said. “We expect them to land [in Qatar] in about an hour or so, and then they’ll be making their way back to the United States after that.”
This comprehensive arrangement also entails the release of roughly $6 billion in Iranian assets that had been held by South Korea. These funds have subsequently been transferred to Qatar, acting as an intermediary between Washington and Tehran. The White House has stated that these funds will be disbursed to Iran for humanitarian purposes.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken formally informed Congress of this transaction last week. The $6 billion in question originated from debts owed to Iran by South Korea for oil acquisitions that had not been settled prior to the Trump administration’s imposition of sanctions on such transactions in 2019.
While U.S. officials emphasize that the release of these funds does not constitute a ransom payment since the money rightfully belonged to Iran, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo critiqued this argument as a matter of semantics. In an interview with Fox News on Monday, Pompeo asserted, “It’s a $6 billion ransom payment. That amounts to roughly $1 billion for each American.”
Pompeo, a former CIA director, further contended that the release of these funds endangers the safety of other Americans abroad who might be unjustly detained by adversaries influenced by Iran’s success. He expressed his concern, stating, “The incentive system is now established—not only for the Iranians but also for the North Koreans and every other malevolent actor—that says, ‘Seize an American, and you’ll receive a billion dollars.’ It’s a disastrous policy.”
However, Kirby sought to clarify the situation in an interview with CNN, emphasizing that “it’s essential to remember that the [Iranian] regime won’t directly receive the funds.” He elucidated the process through which Tehran could access the funds via intermediary Qatar.
“They can make requests for withdrawals to procure humanitarian supplies, agricultural products, medical resources, and food. Subsequently, we will oversee a transparent process to contract these goods, ensuring trustworthy vendors. Finally, these materials will be delivered to the Iranian populace,” Kirby explained.