WASHINGTON – Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin on Wednesday joined calls for the Biden administration to re-freeze $6 billion in Iranian assets following the Hamas attack on Israel that has left thousands dead in both Israel and Gaza.
President Joe Biden un-froze the billions in Iranian oil revenues last month as part of an agreement with Iran to release five American prisoners. But that deal is now facing bipartisan scrutiny following the attack on Israel by the militant group Hamas, which has long been tied to Iran.
“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,” Baldwin said in a statement.
Baldwin’s position drew a quick reaction from her top potential Republican Senate challenger Eric Hovde, who told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Baldwin was right to call on the administration to re-freeze the funds. He also, however, took a shot at the Madison Democrat for supporting the Iran nuclear agreement.
“Iran would like to destroy our country. They are the biggest supporter of global terrorism,” said Hovde, a multi-millionaire businessman who has yet to declare a 2024 Senate bid. “They never complied with the requirements of the deal. Money flowed quickly to multiple terrorist groups and the deal blew up in their face. It is unimaginable to think Pres. Biden and Sen. Baldwin supported this second deal.”
Baldwin’s statement puts her among a bipartisan group on Capitol Hill calling on Biden to undo last month’s move. A group of Republican senators this week sent a letter to the White House criticizing the release of the funds, and Democrats, like U.S. Sens. Jacky Rosen of Nevada and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who like Baldwin are up for re-election, soon followed suit.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Arkansas Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton planned to introduce legislation Wednesday to reinstate the freeze.
The move also comes as Iran’s involvement in the war between Hamas and Israel remains murky. Iran has long backed Hamas’ military wing with training and other support, but U.S. officials have yet to link Iran directly to the attack on Israel launched Saturday.
“As to the question of whether Iran knew about this attack in advance or helped plan or direct this attack, we do not — as of the moment I’m standing here at the podium — have confirmation of that,” Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, told reporters on Tuesday.
The $6 billion in now un-frozen funds stems from the United States’ 2018 withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal under former President Donald Trump. The U.S. at the time imposed sanction that included a partial ban on Iranian oil exports, and some of that money had been held in South Korean banks. The $6 billion in revenue was transferred from South Korea to restricted accounts in Qatar as part of last month’s deal. The White House has said those funds can only be used by Iran for humanitarian purposes, like to purchase food and medicine.
Hamas’ attack on Israel has drawn bipartisan condemnation, and every member of Wisconsin congressional delegation has spoken out about the terror attacks, which includes mass killings of civilians.
More than 1,200 Israelis have been killed so far, and Palestinian officials say more than 1,100 militants and citizens in Gaza have also been killed. At least 22 Americans have died in the fighting, the U.S. State Department said Wednesday.
“I strongly condemn Hamas for their unprovoked terrorist attacks against Israel,” Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, this past Saturday. “Israel has a strong ally in the U.S., and we unequivocally stand behind them as the country seeks to defend itself from this senseless terrorism.”
Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan wrote: “I condemn the heinous attacks by Hamas on Israel. Any hostages should be released immediately & the violence must end. Violence against the people of Israel only makes the situation worse & hope for understanding that not everyone in Gaza is Hamas.”
On Wednesday, Republican U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil called on Biden to “enforce financial sanction on Iran now.”
“We know Hamas is backed by Iran,” Steil wrote. “The U.S. must demonstrate our ironclad commitment to our ally Israel and our mutual stand against terrorism.”
Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Baldwin urges Biden to re-freeze $6 billion in Iranian assets
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