US, Iran diverge over terms of $6 billion in prisoner release deal

The United States and Iran appeared to diverge on a key term of the negotiated $6 billion prisoner-swap deal finalized this week.

The deal between the two countries would secure the release of five American citizens detained in Iran in exchange for the U.S. unfreezing $6 billion in Iranian funds held in South Korean banks, which were effectively stuck due to U.S. sanctions. The deal would allow the funds to be transferred to Qatar. The U.S. would also release five detained Iranian citizens.

While U.S. officials have insisted that the funds must be used for humanitarian purposes only, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said in an exclusive interview with NBC News’s Lester Holt that Iran would have the “authority” to decide how the unfrozen funds would 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,” Raisi said in the interview, according to an Iranian government translator.

When Holt asked whether the money would go toward non-humanitarian needs, Raisi did not answer directly, instead saying it will support the needs of the Iranian people. 

“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,” Raisi said.

State Department spokesperson Matt Miller responded to these remarks at a press briefing Tuesday, saying he understands why Raisi “may need to make those remarks,” but “it is not the policy of this administration, and it is not the arrangement that will be in place here.”

Miller warned the U.S. could freeze the funds again if terms of the deal are not honored.

“The facts of this arrangement are: When this money arrives in these accounts in Qatar, it will be held there under strict oversight by the United States Treasury Department, and the money can only be used for humanitarian purposes,” Miller said.

“And we will remain vigilant in watching the spending of those funds and have the ability to freeze them again if we need to.”

Tags Ebrahim Raisi Iran prisoner swap