The Biden administration is not ruling out freezing the $6 billion in Iranian oil revenues that it released last month as part of a deal to free five American hostages.

The deal faced objections in Washington from day one, but it never seemed in danger until Hamas attacked Israel and killed more than 1,200 people.

In the few days since the attack, Republican lawmakers have been intensifying their efforts to make the administration punish the Islamic Republic for its support of Hamas.

On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen confirmed that all options are being explored in dealing with the regime in Iran, including to block the $6 billion that was allowed to be accessed as part of the prisoner deal.

“These are funds that are sitting in Qatar that were made available purely for humanitarian purposes and the funds have not been touched,” Yellen said. “I wouldn’t take anything off the table in terms of future possible actions.”

Before Yellen, John Kirby, spokesperson US National Security Council had suggested that the funds “can be re-frozen” at any time. In an interview with MSNBC, Kirby said: “None of it has been allocated. None of it has been spent.”

But leaving the door open to a ‘re-freeze’ seems to have failed to satisfy the Republicans, who are now moving ahead with a bill that would “immediately” freeze Iran’s $6 billion.

“The civilized world must re-impose serious consequences on the regime that aids and abets murderous evil against innocent Israelis,” said Senator Tom Cotton, who has sponsored the legislation along with Senator Mitch McConnell .” The United States must lead that effort by our example, and freezing Iranian assets is an important first step.”

Remarkably, the Cotton/McConnel legislation has bipartisan support. By the end of day Wednesday, four Democratic Senators had issued statements backing a re-freeze.

“These funds should remain frozen until we can determine whether Iran played a role in the attack and what the appropriate U.S. response should be,” said Senator Bob Casy of Pennsylvania.

With the 2024 election campaign under way, the US policy towards Iran in general, and the ‘$6 billion’ in particular, could become a major issue, especially in swing states where Donald Trump won in 2020.

President Biden would likely have a harder time fashioning and implementing his Iran policy in an election year. He is keen to ease tensions with the Islamic Republic and reach an agreement that would halt the regime’s nuclear ambitions. But that could prove unpopular with the voters while the memory of the Hamas attack is fresh.

The ‘refreeze’ seems to have wide support in the Capitol. Senators McConnell and Cotton say they will seek unanimous consent to pass their legislation –which blocks Iran’s access to the $6 billion in Qatari banks.

But not everybody is in favor of a ‘refreeze’.

“If Biden re-freezes the Iranian funds,” warns Trita Parsi of Quincy Institute, “the US will completely lose any capacity to revive the JCPoA or come to a new agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program.”.

Many believe that to be a positive outcome, however, as they are against the JCPoA to begin with.

“Belatedly rejecting Biden’s reckless ransom payment of $6B in sanctions relief isn’t enough,” said Senator Bill Hagerty posted on X Wednesday. “After Iran-backed Hamas slaughtered >1,000 ppl in Israel, Democrats should support Maximum Pressure — including the US and EU triggering automatic snapback of JCPoA-lifted sanctions at the UN.”

The regime in Iran is still celebrating the attack on Israel. It may find it harder to celebrate when the consequences of the attack become clearer.

Source » iranintl