The United States said on Thursday that Iran would not gain access any time soon to $6 billion in Iranian funds parked in a Qatar bank last month as part of a prisoner exchange and that Washington retained the right to completely freeze the account.
The question of Iranian access to the funds has been in the spotlight since Iran-backed Palestinian Hamas militants attacked Israel on Saturday, killing more than 1,300 people and taking scores of hostages back to the Palestinian Gaza Strip.
“Iran will not be able to access the funds for the foreseeable future,” a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking at a news conference in Tel Aviv, said that Iran had neither accessed nor spent any of the $6 billion, adding: “We have strict oversight of the funds and we retain the right to freeze them.”
Blinken said the U.S. Treasury oversees any disbursement to ensure it is used only for humanitarian purposes.
Several U.S. media outlets reported on Thursday that the United States and Qatar had agreed to stop Iran from accessing the money.
Iran has made no secret of its backing for Hamas, funding and arming the group, but Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that Tehran was not involved in the Hamas attack on Israel.
Iran’s U.N. mission said the U.S. government was “acutely aware that they cannot renege” on the deal reached over the money, which was transferred to Qatar from an account in South Korea to make it accessible for Iranian humanitarian needs.
The Iranian oil revenues had been frozen in Seoul after Washington, under former President Donald Trump, placed a total ban on Iran’s oil exports and sanctioned its banks in 2019.
“The money rightfully belongs to the people of Iran, earmarked for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to facilitate the acquisition of all essential and non-sanctioned requisites for the Iranians,” said Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York.
It did not respond to a request for comment on whether Iran had yet tried to access the funds.
Qatar’s International Media Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The U.S. Treasury Department declined to comment.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby declined to speak about diplomatic conversations or “speculate … about future transactions.”
He said the money was intended to be disbursed “to approved vendors – that we approved – to go buy food, medicine and medical equipment, agricultural products, and ship it into Iran directly to the benefit of the Iranian people.”
“Every single dime of that money is still sitting in the Qatari bank,” Kirby told reporters, adding: “The regime was never going to see a dime of that money.”