October 12, 2023

Reneging on agreement by “re-freezing” Iranian humanitarian funds would be profound mistake

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, October 12, 2023

CONTACT: Etan Mabourakh | 202.386.6325 x1 | [email protected]

Washington, DC – NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement regarding reports that the Biden Administration may intend to block purchases of humanitarian goods with Iranian funds held in Qatar, ostensibly reneging on a recent prisoner-swap agreement:

“This would be a reckless and unnecessary provocation amidst a tinderbox situation in the Middle East. It would risk encouraging Iran to exacerbate the ongoing conflict at a time when we should be pressing Iran and other actors for restraint and de-escalation. It would slam the door shut on potential diplomatic efforts to free hostages, including freeing American hostages held in Gaza. And, in the longer term, it would destroy U.S. diplomatic options to address numerous dangerous challenges in the region, most notably to ensure Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.

“The calls from domestic critics of Biden’s Iran policy for this action reflect a fundamental misunderstanding regarding this humanitarian channel. The U.S. never ‘unfroze’ any Iranian funds as part of the recent prisoner swap. It allowed Iranian funds that were limited to humanitarian purchases in South Korea to be transferred to Qatar, where they remain frozen except for humanitarian purchases. This is an important mechanism to distinguish between Iran’s government and Iran’s people, who suffer under political repression and food and medicine shortages exacerbated by sanctions. In blocking these funds from being used for humanitarian purchases enshrined under U.S. law, the Biden Administration would be undertaking an unprecedented cancellation of humanitarian exemptions that are supposed to prevent food and medicine from being subject to sanctions. 

“The horrific atrocities perpetrated by Hamas in Israel and the humanitarian crisis unfolding amidst the IDF response in Gaza demand leadership that transcends shallow political expediency in order to end the bloodshed, enforce international norms and accountability, and pursue a true peace. A move to block humanitarian funds would be based purely on domestic political considerations. If Biden is indeed following in the footsteps of Donald Trump and reneging on a second Iran diplomatic agreement, he would be confirming that our domestic politics preclude the U.S. from being able to play a responsible leadership role. Far from quelling the political dramas in Washington, this will only add further fuel to bad-faith political critiques. And it would embolden those calling for even greater and more dangerous provocations, such as those in the Senate now urging the U.S. to bomb Iran.”

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