A growing number of Senate Democrats are calling on President Joe Biden’s administration to withhold $6 billion in funds that had been set to be released to Iran following Hamas’ deadly terror attack against Israel over the weekend.
Last month, six Americans who had been wrongfully imprisoned in Iran were freed in exchange for the Biden administration authorizing South Korean banks to unfreeze $6 billion in payment for Iranian energy products that the country had purchased. The funds will go through Qatar, and the White House has maintained that the money would be available to Iran only for humanitarian transactions involving items such as food, medicine and agricultural products.
The freed American prisoners were reunited with their families in the U.S. after spending “years of agony, uncertainty, and suffering,” Biden said last month.
But suspicions that Iran may have played a role in the shocking attack against Israel have many Republicans and even some Democrats urging the Biden administration not to go forward with the release of funds.
“Until I have full confidence that Iran did not play a role in these barbaric terrorist attacks on the Israeli people, the United States should freeze the $6 billion dollars in Iranian assets,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who is facing reelection next year, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Baldwin was joined by other vulnerable in-cycle Democratic senators, including Jon Tester (Mont.), Jacky Rosen (Nev.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), and Bob Casey (Pa.). Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), who just won another term last year, also called on the Biden administration to reverse course.
The statements reflect the high level of support within the Democratic Party for Israel as the extent of Hamas’ brutality became clear. At least 1,200 Israelis and 22 Americans have died since Hamas’ surprise attack. Meanwhile, 900 people had reportedly died in Gaza as of Tuesday following Israeli airstrikes.
Republicans, emboldened by the Democratic defections, plan to seek passage next week of legislation offered by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) that would refreeze the Iranian funds. Cotton plans to do so via a unanimous consent request, meaning that any one senator can object to its approval.
“The Biden administration’s decision to let Iran access the $6 billion immediately freed up other money for the regime to fund its attacks in Israel. The Biden administration should immediately re-freeze the funds,” Cotton said in a statement on Tuesday.
Biden administration officials have defended the transfer of the previously frozen assets to Iran, maintaining they don’t have proof that Tehran played a direct role in the attacks on Israel despite some reports that Iran helped plan them.
Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the State Department, told reporters on Wednesday that “there is just no evidence” to support Republican statements that releasing the Iranian funds freed up resources to aid Hamas. He also noted that the money was originally frozen under the Trump administration in 2018.
“Iran has always funded terrorism,” Miller said. “This money can be only used for humanitarian purposes. Not a cent of it has been spent at this point and we have the ability to freeze it at any time.”
Original News : https://news.yahoo.com/democrats-break-biden-administration-over-214354058.html