November 30, 2023

Cassidy, Scott, Colleagues Demand Answers from Biden Administration on Latest Iran Sanctions Waiver

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Tim Scott (R-SC), and 23 Republican colleagues called on Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to conduct needed oversight over the administration’s lack of a cohesive Iran strategy given the recent decision to extend an Iran sanctions waiver. As Israel continues to battle Iranian-backed Hamas and the regime’s proxies increase their attacks against U.S. personnel in the region, the Biden administration on November 13 issued a waiver providing Iran access to approximately $10 billion.

“A strong signal of deterrence—utilizing military, economic, and diplomatic tools—is needed if we want to stop the attacks against U.S. personnel and prevent the war in Gaza from expanding into a protracted regional conflict. Unfortunately, the administration’s military and economic responses to Iran and its proxies have not only been disproportionate, they appear to be completely disjointed,” wrote the senators. 

“We therefore request that your departments provide us with a classified assessment on the administration’s plan to deter Iranian aggression and prevent the escalation of conflict in the Middle East. This assessment should include an estimation of how Iran has already leveraged—and could in the future leverage—against U.S. persons and interests the tens of billions in assets it now has access to due to your administration’s use of U.S. sanctions waivers,” continued the senators.

On August 18, 2023, Cassidy, Scott and 24 Republican colleagues demanded answers from the administration after it released approximately $6 billion in frozen assets to Iran in exchange for American prisoners.

Cassidy and Scott were joined by U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mike Braun (R-IN), Ted Budd (R-NC), J.D. Vance (R-OH), Pete Ricketts (R-NE), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), John Cornyn (R-TX), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Marco Rubio (R-FL), John Hoeven (R-ND), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Steve Daines (R-MT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), John Barrasso (R-WY), Katie Britt (R-AL), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Deb Fischer (R-NE) in signing the letter. 

Read the full letter here and below: 

Dear Secretaries Blinken, Yellen, and Austin:

On August 18, 2023, we wrote to express our concern over the administration’s decision to release $6 billion worth of frozen Iranian assets in exchange for the return of American detainees. This decision reinforced an incredibly dangerous precedent of providing ransom payments to the world’s greatest state sponsor of terrorism and put a price on the life of every American overseas. Understanding the grave error of the unfreezing of Iranian assets and the danger this action poses to U.S. lives and interests, it is therefore alarming to hear that the administration is doubling down on its appeasement strategy by actively working to provide Iran with access to billions more in funding.

On October 7, 2023, Iranian-backed Hamas terrorists attacked Israel, brutally killing an estimated 1,200 civilians and taking over 200 hostages. In response, the administration reached an agreement with Qatar on October 12 to temporarilyprevent the unfrozen assets—now held at Qatari financial institutions—from being expended. Based on information from your administration, it is our belief that with the current lack of safeguards, Iran will soon access this $6 billion and use the funds to continue to expand its malign proxy activities.

Since October 7, Hamas and fellow Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, have continued to launch attacks against Israel as it fights to defend its sovereignty and protect its people. As we continue to stand with our greatest ally in the Middle East, other Iranian proxies have increased their attacks against U.S. personnel in the region. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria have launched sixty-one attacks against U.S. personnel since October 7. United States forces have responded only three times. However, at the same time, your administration has inadvisably taken steps to unlock tens of billions of dollars for Iran to fund additional terrorist activities that directly threaten American lives. 

On November 13, 2023, the U.S. Department of State extended a sanctions waiver pursuant to Section 1245(d)(5) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 and Section 1244(i) and 1247(f) of the Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act of 2012, finding that a sanctions waiver to allow Iraq to pay Iran for electricity was in the national security interest of the United States. Public reports have held that there is roughly $10 billion in Iraqi payments for Iranian electricity currently being held in escrow accounts in Iraq.[1] The decision to extend this waiver and allow Iran to convert Iraqi Dinars to Euros was signed the day after U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) carried out its latest strike against facilities used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other Iranian proxy groups in Eastern Syria, in response to their attacks against U.S. personnel. Such timing signals to Iran that despite attacks on U.S. servicemembers and our allies, it is business as normal on the economic front.

As we said in August, money is fungible. Combined with the $10 billion waiver extension, the administration has provided Iran with access to roughly $16 billion in assets over the past four months; assets that can be used—now or in the future—to offset the cost of the Iranian regime’s increase in destabilizing activities across the region.

A strong signal of deterrence—utilizing military, economic, and diplomatic tools—is needed if we want to stop the attacks against U.S. personnel and prevent the war in Gaza from expanding into a protracted regional conflict. Unfortunately, the administration’s military and economic responses to Iran and its proxies have not only been disproportionate, they appear to be completely disjointed.

We therefore request that your departments provide us with a classified assessment on the administration’s plan to deter Iranian aggression and prevent the escalation of conflict in the Middle East. This assessment should include an estimation of how Iran has already leveraged—and could in the future leverage—against U.S. persons and interests the tens of billions in assets it now has access to due to your administration’s use of U.S. sanctions waivers and is to be provided in a member or staff-level briefing no later than December 7, 2023.

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