Iranian president: Funds unfrozen by US would be spent ‘wherever we need it’

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said the $6 billion in funds the U.S. agreed to unfreeze in exchange for five U.S. prisoners will be spent “wherever we need it,” despite the Biden administration saying the funds are restricted to humanitarian use. 

When asked in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt about the funds, Raisi said Iran would have “authority” over how the funds will be spent. 

“This money belongs to the Iranian people, the Iranian government, so the Islamic Republic of Iran will decide what to do with this money,” he said, according to an Iranian government translator. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly signed the agreement last week, issuing a blanket waiver for international banks to allow for the transfer of the $6 billion of Iranian funds frozen in South Korea to a bank in Qatar in exchange for the release of five American prisoners. 

Talks surrounding the deal began last month after Iran moved four of the prisoners out of a prison in Tehran to house arrest. A fifth U.S. citizen was already at the location. 

The funds were proceeds from Iran’s oil sales to South Korea that were frozen by the U.S. when relations between the two countries faltered.

U.S. officials said the $6 billion was to only be used for food, medicine and other humanitarian goods.

National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said Blinken took a procedural step to “ensure Iranian funds can move from one restricted account to another and remain restricted to humanitarian trade.” 

When Holt asked if the money would be used in other ways, Raisi said, “Humanitarian means whatever the Iranian people needs, so this money will be budgeted for those needs, and the needs of the Iranian people will be decided and determined by the Iranian government.” 

The deal has drawn criticism. Some Republicans argue the move would free up resources for Iran’s military spending and support of terrorism.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said Monday he is concerned the deal encourages hostile nations to take more Americans hostage in the future. The New Jersey lawmaker said he does not think Congress will vote on the deal and declined to say how he would vote if it came to the Senate floor. 

Holt’s interview with Raisi is scheduled to air at 6:30 p.m. on NBC News. 

Tags Antony Blinken Bob Menendez Ebrahim Raisi Iran Iran prisoner swap Joe Biden Lester Holt U.S.-Iran relations