Updated - Qatar said on Friday that it is committed to fulfilling an agreement with Iran and the US on $6 billion in Iranian funds released into Qatari banks.
In a news conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani was asked if his government had agreed with the United states to freeze the funds that were released from South Korea in September, after the bloody attack by Hamas against Israel.
The Prime Minister in a somewhat vague answer in Arabic said, "Regarding the media reports about freezing Iranian funds in Qatar, the state of Qatar is always committed to any agreement, and every step must be done through consultations with other partners that fund – the money here in Qatar, is there. And Qatar will focus at the priorities of – need not do anything that will escalate the situation in the region."
The Washington Post reported on Thursday that US Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo had told House Democrats that the Biden administration and Qatar's government had reached a deal to re-freeze the funds in the light of events in the Middle East. Adeyemo reportedly said that after the October 7 bloody Hamas attack on Israel and the death of more than 1,000 civilians, the US and Qatar reached the deal to deny Iran the use of the funds for buying non-sanctionable goods.
CBS News called it a "quiet understanding", not a formal agreement
Iranian state news agency IRNA, however, reported on Friday that Qatar's Central Bank Governor Bandar bin Mohamed bin Saud Al Thani had denied the reports in a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad-Reza Farzin on the sidelines of the International monetary Fund summit in Morocco.
"The rumors about the refreezing of Iran's funds in Qatari banks were of no real value, and were more like a joke and media game," the Qatari official said, according to IRNA, which is the government's official news website.
He added that “Qatar is fully committed to all its obligations with Iran, and there is no obstacle to bolstering banking relations between the two countries.”
The Biden administration reached a hostage release deal in August to allow South Korea to unblock $6 billion of accrued Iranian oil income and transfer the money to Qatar in exchange for the release of five Americans held by Iran. The deal led to sharp criticism by Republicans, some Democrats and Iranian American activists, who labeled the released funds as “the biggest ransom payout in history”, which would embolden the Iranian regime and encourage hostage taking around the world.
A bipartisan bill has been introduced in the US Senate to stop the use of the funds by Iran. More than 100 House Republicans backed a bill to refreeze the $6 billion, lawmakers announced on Thursday.
“A month ago… the Biden Administration unfroze $6 billion and made it available to Iran,” said Congressman August Pfluger who introduced a bill to block Iran’s access to the fund. “This $6 billion will be used to backfill the money that Iran is paying to Hamas if we don’t act. Since the Administration refuses to permanently freeze the funds, Congress will.”
Republican Senator Joni Ernst on Friday told Fox News that "President Biden must immediately freeze the $6B that emboldened more of Iran’s proxy terrorism. End the appeasement."