The Hill: Tester, Manchin call on Biden to freeze $6 billion in Iranian assets

by Alexander Bolton

Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who are both facing tough re-elections next year, on Tuesday said the Biden administration should immediately “freeze” the $6 billion in funds that are set to be released to Iran as part of a prisoner exchange.  

The leading Democratic centrists voiced their opposition to releasing Iranian assets that have been frozen in South Korea in the wake of reports linking Iran to the Hamas attacks that have resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 people in Israel.  

“As American intelligence officials continue to investigate the terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas, we should review our options to hold Iran accountable for any support they may have provided,” Tester said in a statement. “At a minimum, we should immediately freeze the $6 billion in Iranian assets and explore other financial tools we have at our disposal.”  

Tester, the chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said: “Moving forward, we need to ensure our ally Israel can defend itself from these ongoing deadly attacks against its civilians.”  

Manchin on Tuesday afternoon said he didn’t support the Biden administration’s decision to issue a waiver allowing Iran to access $6 billion in funds frozen in South Korea in exchange for the release of five Americans held in Iran.  

“I wasn’t supportive of the initial $6B transfer. We should absolutely freeze these Iranian assets while we also consider additional sanctions,” he said  

Manchin, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, released a statement earlier Tuesday expressing strong support for Israel and calling for strict sanctions on any country linked to Hamas’s brutal attacks on Israeli civilians.   

“Any country or government that is found to be supportive of this terrorist organization should have the most severe sanctions imposed upon them immediately to shut down the support of these terroristic, barbaric actions,” he said.  

Both Democrats are up for re-election next year in states that former President Donald Trump won in 2016 and 2020.  

Tester has announced his plans to run for another Senate term while Manchin is still weighing his political future.  

Twenty Senate Republicans, including Tester’s home-state colleague, Sen. Steve Daines (Mont.), wrote a letter to President Biden Tuesday urging him to refreeze the Iranian funds that have been held in South Korea.  

“The State Department should immediately rescind the waivers that allowed Iranian funds to be converted and moved to more accessible bank accounts, as well as work with U.S. ally Qatar to immediately freeze the accounts containing these funds,” the GOP senators wrote. “We must stand with Israel to restrict access to these Iranian funds.”  

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Hamas militants who killed hundreds of Israeli civilians over the weekend began planning their assault a year ago and received military training, logistical help and millions of dollars in weapons from Iranian allies. The report cited Western and Middle Eastern intelligence officials.  

A spokesman for Hamas told the BBC that the group had received support from Iran and other benefactors for its attacks on Israel. 

Iranian officials have publicly praised the attacks on Israel.