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Lawmakers Investigate State Department Over $1 Billion Ransom Payment to Iran

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Lawmakers Investigate State Department Over $1 Billion Ransom Payment to Iran

Biden admin stonewalling GOP efforts to unearth details about U.S. role in waiving sanctions

By: Adam Kredo, Washington Free Beacon, March 24, 2021:

Republican foreign policy leaders in Congress are pressing Secretary of State Antony Blinken to fully disclose the contents of secret talks with South Korea that are believed to have paved the way for that country to hand Iran $1 billion as part of a ransom payment.

Reps. Bryan Steil (R., Wis.), Jim Banks (R., Ind.), and Greg Steube (R., Fla.) say the State Department is withholding from Congress key details about the Biden administration’s reported efforts to help South Korea skirt economic sanctions and pay Iran the billion-dollar ransom, which came after Tehran seized a South Korean tanker and its crew in January. Blinken dodged several questions on the matter when testifying earlier this month before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, prompting the lawmakers to launch a formal probe seeking answers.
In a letter sent Thursday to Blinken and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, the lawmakers demand the State Department answer questions about whether it waived sanctions to enable the payment and took part in negotiations aimed at securing the cash for Iran.

‘The lawmakers suspect the administration helped free the money—frozen abroad as a result of U.S. sanctions—as part of its efforts to coax Iran into negotiating a revamped nuclear deal.

The probe signals mounting GOP frustration with the Biden State Department as it makes a series of concessions to Iran aimed at enticing it back to the bargaining table. The administration has already waived United Nations sanctions on Iran and removed a key terror designation on the Tehran-armed Houthi militia groups in Yemen, which continue to attack U.S. allies in the region.

As U.S.-Iran envoy Robert Malley seeks direct talks with Iran, Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees have been mostly left in the dark. Malley and other senior officials have not briefed them on their diplomatic efforts and have repeatedly dodged questions about the ransom payment, as well as other reported concessions, such as easing travel restrictions on Iranian officials. Republicans and many of their Democratic colleagues remain concerned the Biden administration will move forward with sanctions relief, despite public promises that this would not occur before Iran demonstrates a willingness to roll back its nuclear program.

Steil petitioned the Treasury Department in early March to come clean about its suspected role in facilitating South Korea’s ransom payment. Iran is using the tanker as leverage to pressure South Korea into freeing some $7 billion in oil revenues that are tied up in the country. South Korean officials said they consulted with the United States before releasing the money, which likely could not have been moved without the administration’s consent.

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