U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has authorized sanctions waivers allowing banks to unfreeze the Iranian funds.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has signed off on sanctions waivers paving the way for international banks to unfreeze $6 billion dollars in Iranian funds, the Associated Press reported on Monday.
The waiver applies to banks and other financial institutions in South Korea, Germany, Ireland, Qatar and Switzerland, according to the report.
The funds are to be transferred to Qatar before being disbursed for “further humanitarian transactions in accordance with written guidance from the U.S. government,” said Blinken, according to AP.
“It is in the national security interest of the United States to waive the imposition of sanctions,” he added.
Seoul owes the sum for oil purchased from Tehran before the Trump administration reimposed penalties on such transactions following its withdrawal in 2018 from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal.
The Biden administration has also agreed to release five Iranian citizens held in the United States, in exchange for five American prisoners detained in Iran, AP reported.
The five Americans are Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi, Morad Tahbaz (all three serving 10-year sentences) and two unnamed prisoners, all of whom the Biden administration had determined the Iranian government unjustly jailed.
Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the prospective U.S.-Iran deal, saying, “Arrangements that do not dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure do not stop its nuclear program and only provide it with funds that go to terrorist elements sponsored by Iran.”
While exact details of the emerging agreement remain unknown, U.S. and Iranian officials expect it to be completed by the end of September.
In June, The New York Times reported the broad outlines of the indirect negotiations, some of which reportedly took place in the Gulf state of Oman.
The overall agreement would limit Iran’s uranium enrichment to its current production level of 60%. Iran would also agree to halt attacks against American contractors in Syria and Iraq by the regime’s terrorist proxies, increase its cooperation with international nuclear inspectors and halt ballistic missile sales to Russia.
For its part, the United States would agree not to ratchet up economic sanctions, to stop confiscating Iranian oil and not to seek punitive resolutions against Iran at the United Nations or at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Earlier on Monday, Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi warned that Israel will have no choice but to act if Iran enriches uranium above 60%.
“If Iran moves to enrich uranium above 60% and we identify it—and there is no possibility that we won’t, that the world would not recognize it—the result is that Israel would act out of necessity,” said Hanegbi. “There would be no choice.”
Such a development would indicate that “Iran is clearly pursuing a [nuclear] bomb, as a policy, and we cannot risk our fate,” added Hanegbi, without specifying how Jerusalem would respond.
Earlier this year, IAEA inspectors detected “particles” of uranium enriched to 83.7% at Iran’s underground nuclear site in Fordow.
At the time, reports quoted an unnamed Israeli official as saying that Jerusalem did not consider the development a trigger for military action because Tehran had not amassed any material “at that level.”
Iran has been enriching uranium to 60% since April 2021.
Hanegbi’s comments come a week after an IAEA report showed that Tehran has continued to amass uranium enriched to near weapons-grade levels.
The report pegged the Islamic Republic’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 60% at 121.6 kilograms (268 pounds), compared to 114 kilograms (250 pounds) in May and 87.5 kilograms (192 pounds) in February.
Uranium enriched to 60% purity is a short technical step away from 90%, considered weapons-grade.
On Sunday, Mossad chief David Barnea said that Israel, in cooperation with its international allies, has so far in 2023 foiled 27 plots by Iran to murder Israelis and Jews outside the borders of the Jewish state.
“The plots being pursued by these [terrorist] teams were orchestrated, masterminded and directed by Iran,” Barnea said, noting that the attempted attacks occurred “all over the world,” including “in Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia and South America.”
Image: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Israel, Jan. 30, 2023. Credit: David Azagury/U.S. Embassy in Israel.