President Joe Biden speaks next to US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, June 6, 2023.

US Renews Sanctions Waiver Unblocking Billions of Iran's Frozen Funds

Wednesday, 03/13/2024

The Biden administration on Wednesday issued another sanctions waiver to Iran, unblocking up to 10 billions of dollars in Iranian frozen funds.

The administration notified the Congress it is renewing the sanctions waiver for Iraq to continue buying electricity and natural gas from Iran.

The waiver was offered in 2018 after former President Donald Trump imposed sanction on Iran, while Iraq needed the energy imports. Considering Washington's amicable ties with Baghdad, US administrations allowed the exception to the sanctions, on the condition that Iraq cannot pay Iran in cash hard currencies, but only allow the purchase of humanitarian needs in Iraq.

However, last year, the Biden administration allowed $10 billion in accumulated funds to be transferred to Oman for Iran being able to use the money, ostensibly for non- sanctionable purposes.

A group of Republican House Representatives led by Rep. Bill Huizenga, in a letter addressed to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, questioned the rationale behind the Biden administration's decision to renew the 120-day sanctions waiver, allowing Iraq to pay Iran for electricity and facilitating the transfer of Iranian funds from the Trade Bank of Iraq to a bank in Oman.

The lawmakers are asking the Biden administration to provide information on how much cash Iran has been able to access in the months since sanctions were lifted, referring to a December 2023 hearing of the House Financial Services Committee, when Elizabeth Rosenberg, the assistant secretary of the US Treasury Department, acknowledged the existence of "two transactions” by Iran.

Since the US extended the sanctions waiver four months ago, the situation in the Middle East has deteriorated further, amplifying an already tense crisis.

In January, an Iran-backed militia's drone attack in Jordan claimed the lives of three US service members, marking the first American military fatalities from hostile fire amid escalating tensions from Israel's conflict with Hamas.

Increased attacks on vessels in the Red Sea by Iran-backed Houthi rebels have intensified criticism of the administration's handling of Iran. Recently, CENTCOM Commander Gen. Erik Kurilla told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran remains undeterred in its support for Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis – and is not paying a price for its nefarious activities in the region.

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