GOP, Biden administration clash over Iran

After a relatively long period of lull in Iran-US talks, Tehran and Washington announced earlier this week a deal to unfreeze Iran’s funds in South Korea and release American prisoners in Tehran. While the deal is yet to be fully implemented, severe infighting broke out in Washington over how to deal with Iran, with Republicans trying to inveigle the Biden administration into abandoning diplomacy with Tehran. 
The Biden administration’s evolving deal with Iran pitted Republicans against the White House. Some hawkish GOP figures went so far as to accuse President Joe Biden of “bowing” to Iran by paying it what they called “ransom.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday said the prisoner swap deal amounted to “the largest ransom payment in American history.”
 Senator Tom Cotton lashed out at the Biden administration in a similar way, accusing it of paying Iran $6 billion in ransom. He also accused President Biden of “dancing to Iran’s tune.”
The harsh reactions from Republicans appear to have encouraged former US envoy for Iran Rob Malley to break his silence. 
Commenting on press reports that American prisoners were released from Iranian prison into house arrest, Malley said in a post on X that the release of the prisoners was “only a 1st step.”
“This is welcome news too long in coming,” he added. “I know my colleagues won’t rest until they all return home.”
Malley has been placed on “unpaid leave” since last April. His unofficial dismissal caused a huge uproar in Washington, which has been unable to formulate a bipartisan Iran policy. 
The divisions in Washington could send mixed signals to Iran in terms of US credibility, which has been severely damaged due to its unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May 2018.
On the other side, Iran appears to be fully skeptical about the likelihood of making a deal with the US Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Monday that the deal over funds was separate from the humanitarian release of US prisoners. 
“We have been discussing, negotiating, and exchanging indirect messages with the American side for months. In this direction, I would like to emphasize that we have never sought an interim agreement or a less-for-less agreement. And we will not seek such a deal,” Amir-Abdollahian said. 
He added, “The issue of prisoners is a completely humanitarian one. We do not see any connection between the issue of prisoner exchange as a humanitarian issue and the issue of the release of funds in foreign banks.”
An informed source told IRNA on Thursday that Iran has finally gained access to more than $10 billion worth of its funds that were illegally frozen in bank accounts in South Korea and Iraq because of alleged compliance with US sanctions.
The source said that the funds had been released under an initial deal reached with the United States and will include $6 billion worth of funds blocked in South Korea as well as a “significant amount” of funds blocked in the Trade Bank of Iraq.
By Soheila Zarfam
First published in Tehran Times

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