US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has signed a sanction waiver to allow the release of $6 billion of Iran’s frozen assets in a hostage release deal with Tehran.
The move will allow the funds blocked in two South Korean banks to reach Qatar without violating US banking sanctions imposed on Iran. According to the State Department document, Secretary of State Blinken determined that waiving the sanctions was in the national security interests of the United States.
Sources told AP that Blinken had approved the waiver last week, but Congress was only informed on Monday.
Both Washington and Tehran since announcing the prisoner release deal in August were hinting that the prisoner release deal and the unblocking of the funds were separate issues, but the waiver document clearly links the two as one agreement.
"Allowing these funds to be transferred from restricted Iranian accounts held in the (Republic of Korea) to accounts in Qatar for humanitarian trade is necessary to facilitate the release of these US citizens," the document said.
The news about the waiver came hours after an EU Commissioner expressed deep concern over the situation of Johan Floderus, a Swedish diplomat detained in Iran more than 500 days ago.
Floderus seems to be yet another victim of Iran's 'hostage diplomacy'. His case was kept secret for a long time by Sweden and the European Union in the hope that silence would secure his release.
On Monday, Ylva Johansson, the EU Commissioner previously responsible for Floderus's work, publicly addressed his case for the first time. "I'm very sad. I'm very worried," she said, “let’s hope that we can have him home soon”.
The long-kept secret of Floderus' plight first came to light in a New York Times report on 1 September. Shortly after, his family broke their silence and set out some details of his mistreatment in prison, including 24-hour lighting in the cell and over 300 days in solitary confinement.
Floderus turned 33 in prison last week.
In a statement published by a Swedish newspaper, Floderus’ family said he had spent some time in Iran on EU official business and had no issues. Sometime in early April 2022, he went back to Iran for vacation with his Swedish friends. On 17 April, he wanted to fly back home but was detained at Tehran’s international airport.
It’s not clear if Floderus had been advised against traveling to Iran on a personal capacity.
He has now joined a long list of foreigners and Iranian dual-nationals who in recent years have been detained in Iran and used as bargaining chips to force prisoner exchange or financial concessions.
Early August, four US dual-nationals were released from prison into house arrest in Tehran. Blinken said at the time that the move was the first step of a process to fly them home.
Opponents of the prospective deal say it encourages the Islamic Republic to detain more American and EU citizens.
Michael Rubin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, is a vocal critic of what seems to be the current EU/US policy towards Iran.
In a piece for Washington Examiner on Monday, he wrote: "When Iran brings a gun, Biden and his European partners wave cash. No wonder it is open season for Americans and Europeans worldwide."
Rubin lamented the 500-day silence over Johan Floderus' detainment and suggested that the authorities in Iran are looking to "trade him for Hamid Nouri".
Nouri is a former official of the Islamic Republic Judiciary who was arrested in Sweden and is now serving a life sentence for his involvement in the mass execution of up to 5,000 Iranian political prisoners in 1988.