US to release $6 billion of frozen Iranian oil revenue as part of prisoner release deal

Iranian flag on conference table.

Iranian flag on conference table.Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images

  • The Biden Administration plans to release $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue in exchange for five US prisoners.

  • The transaction aims to decrease tensions between the countries, and help restore the Iran Nuclear Deal.

  • Iran lost access to tens of billions in revenue after the Trump Administration pulled out of the pact.

The Biden Administration signaled intentions to unfreeze $6 billion in Iranian oil funds, alongside plans to release five Iranian prisoners, The Financial Times reported.

These efforts are part of a US campaign to loosen tensions between the two countries, and follow after Tehran moved five American prisoners from its Evin prison to house arrest. A prisoner swap is likely after the $6 billion becomes available to Iran, which is currently held in South Korea.

“The US has agreed to allow the transfer of funds from South Korea to restricted accounts held in financial institutions in Qatar and the release of five Iranian nationals currently detained in the United States to facilitate the release of five US citizens detained in Iran,” a quoted State Department official said.

As a caveat, American officials have said that the oil funds would only be available for the purchase of humanitarian goods.

The assets were frozen in 2018, after the Trump Administration abandoned the Iran Nuclear Deal. As a consequence, Iran lost access to billions of dollars in oil revenue held across a number of central banks.

President Joe Biden has made the deal’s restoration a leading foreign policy aim. The 2015 pact was designed to restrict Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for lowered sanctions.

Though efforts on this have largely stalled, the prisoner swap may help decrease tensions enough to advance dialogue on the program, FT reported.

Congress was officially notified about the planned transaction on Monday, and Biden officials are expected to brief lawmakers later this week. Though the names of the Iranian prisoners included in the swap were not made public, the US citizens currently held in Iran include Morad Tahbaz, Emad Shargi, and Siamak Namazi.

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