There’s been some serious problems with how the Biden administration has handled its response to supporting Israel after the October 7 terrorist attack that Hamas perpetrated on our ally in the Middle East. It best, it’s been a mixed bag. It just got worse when it was revealed that the administration extended a waiver sanction for Iran–which we know backs Hamas–so that they can receive around $10 billion from Iraq in exchange for electricity purchases.
According to a report from The New York Post, the waiver is for 120-days and was signed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday. And, while it “is identical to one issued in July,” that waiver wasn’t signed just slightly a month after Iran-backed Hamas went after Israel.
The article also cites a report from the Associated Press, from included comments from anonymous officials:
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the decision-making process, said Blinken signed the waiver mainly because the administration doesn’t want to cut Iraq off from a critical source of energy.
But, they said the administration is confident Iran will not be able to use any of the money for nefarious purposes. They said a rigorous vetting process is in place to ensure that the cash can only be used for food, medicine, medical equipment and agricultural goods.
Blinken visited Baghdad on Nov. 5 and met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani during the course of a Middle East trip focused on the Israel-Hamas war and efforts to prevent it from spreading into a broader regional conflict.
The officials added that only a small amount of the money held in Iraq had been transferred to Oman during the past 120 days and that none of the money now held in Omani banks had yet been spent.
The waiver is similar to one signed by Blinken earlier this year, which freed up some $6 billion that South Korea had paid to Iran for oil imports in exchange for the release of Americans held prisoner by Tehran. Under that waiver, the money held by South Korea was transferred to banks in Qatar and is also restricted for the purchase of humanitarian supplies.
However, Iran hawks point out that the waivers can allow Iran to free up domestic revenue it would have otherwise spent on humanitarian goods to fund proxies like Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen.
Not only are those opposed to the waiver described as “Iran hawks,” but there’s no mention of the October 7 terrorist attack. There’s only a slight mention of “the Israel-Hamas war.” Such is not entirely surprising, though, given how the AP has covered the attack thus far and was accused of being complict given that the outlet was among those that had reporters embeded with Hamas.
Matt Miller, a spokesperson for the State Department, stuck to old narratives and didn’t inspire any confidence at all during a lengthy exchange with a reporter from Tuesday’s department briefing. This included speaking to how “that money has been used for the benefit of the Iranian people, period,” though such a talking point forgets how money is fungible.
When asked multiple times by the reporter about a concern for “optics,” Miller pointed out “we don’t worry about optics; we worry about reality,” adding “and the reality is that these funds, as I said, can only be used for humanitarian and other non-sanctionable purposes.”
The reporter also brought up the fungibility issue, prompting Miller to respond “we have heard this a lot” and “I’ve addressed it a lot.” He even acknowledged how Iran operates.
“So with respect to the Iranian regime, it has always funded destabilizing activities. It has done that first and foremost; it’s one of its top priorities. It does that whether it receives–whether its people receive humanitarian benefits or not,” he acknowledged, adding “to the extent that the Iranian people have greater access to food or medicine as a result of money covered by this waiver, that’s food or medicine that otherwise would not have been available to them.”
Biden State Department spokesman Matt Miller has a very difficult time rebutting the "fungibility" argument with the tens of billions of dollars Biden has unlocked for the Iranian regime pic.twitter.com/yHLdHnwu38— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) November 14, 2023
Miller also did what the Biden administration tends to do best, blame the Trump administration, as he mentioned once more “this is a policy that goes back to the previous administration” and that “the previous administration apparently decided that it was worthwhile to have this money spent for the benefit of the Iranian people, with whom we have no quarrel.”
The waiver extension had not been granted at that point when the briefing took place, and so Miller also mentioned in his answer that “I am not going to talk about–I’m not going to talk about things that have not happened.” There will be another briefing on Thursday.
The Biden administration has also not exactly been helpful with assuaging concerns when it comes to the $6 billion that was going to Iran as part of a prisoner swap. Such an announcement even came on the anniversary of September 11, leading to more criticism. After the October 7 terrorist attack, at which point the money had not been released yet, members from both parties called on the administration to freeze the funds.
During Tuesday’s briefing, Miller shared “it’s my understanding that none of that money has yet to be spent,” according to the official State Department transcript.
Iran, however, has pointed out that they will use the money “wherever we need it.” During an appearance on ABC News’ “This Week” immediately following the October 7 attack, Blinken made an admission of his own, that “Iran has unfortunately always used and focused its funds on supporting terrorism.”
The administration’s response stands in stark contrast to those from Republicans. This waiver extension comes just after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law heightened sanctions on Iran. According to Florida’s Voice, the bill “amends the Protect Florida Investment Act by expanding the definition of a ‘scrutinized company.'”