EXCLUSIVE: House China Committee Chairman Mike Gallagher led a bipartisan group of nearly 100 House lawmakers on Wednesday to urge President Biden to refreeze the $6 billion in Iranian assets released last month in light of the deadly Hamas terrorist war on Israel.
Gallagher, R-Wis., led a group of 96 House Republicans and two House Democrats, Reps. Donald Davis, D-N.C., and Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., in sending a letter to Biden. The lawmakers said they ‘stand ready to work’ with the president and will back up his administration’s ‘rock solid and unwavering’ support for Israel’s security.
‘Denying the terrorist-sponsoring regime in Tehran access to funds with which it can export chaos is an essential step in this direction,’ they wrote.
In September, the Biden administration made a deal with Iran to swap prisoners and release $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds.
As part of the deal, Iran released five American citizens detained in Iran and the U.S. released five Iranian citizens being held in the U.S. The deal also created a blanket waiver to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds from South Korea to Qatar without fear of violating U.S. sanctions. Administration officials say the funds can only be used for ‘humanitarian needs like food and medicine.’
The unfreezing of the money took place nearly a month before Hamas terrorists launched a massive, deadly attack on Israel over the weekend.
At least 22 Americans have been killed in the terror attacks. An unknown number of Americans are being held hostage by Hamas, U.S. officials say.
‘Your administration recently released $6 billion in frozen funds to Iran in return for American hostages. Our concern — a concern that has grown more acute in light of Iran’s support for a terrorist war against Israel that already amounts to the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust — is that the Iranian regime will use all available financial tools to further fuel this war against Israel, fund other terrorist proxies in the region such as Hezbollah who export Iran’s genocidal terrorism, and accelerate Iran’s nuclear [buildup],’ Gallagher and the group of lawmakers wrote. ‘Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi put it plainly that the funds would be used ‘wherever we need it.’’
They added, ‘Iran’s ‘need’ is Israel’s destruction.’
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel was ‘at war’ and promised that the attackers would pay ‘an unprecedented price.’
But the lawmakers cited Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Hosseini Khamenei, who stated, ‘‘This cancer [Israel] will definitely be eradicated, God willing, at the hands of the Palestinian people and the resistance forces throughout the region.”
Gallagher and the lawmakers also pointed to reports of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) ‘involvement in planning and giving the ‘final go-ahead’ for Hamas’ terrorist war on Israel,’ saying it ‘demands an immediate response.’
‘Left unaddressed, the Iranian regime’s continued support for terrorist groups and attempts to wipe Israel off the map will only grow more brazen and more destabilizing for the region,’ they wrote.
Biden administration officials have repeatedly said they have ‘not seen evidence that Iran directed or was behind this particular attack.’ However, Gallagher said ‘senior Hamas and Hezbollah officials claimed that IRGC officers have been working with Hamas since August to prepare for air, land and sea invasions of Israel.’
‘This, combined with years of Iran providing weapons and training, enabled Hamas to launch thousands of rockets at Israeli civilian targets and invade communities, murdering and maiming hundreds of innocent people,’ Gallagher said.
Gallagher and lawmakers also pointed to Iran’s United Nation’s mission, which ‘said the measures Hamas has taken — which include rape, kidnapping, torture, bombings, and murder — ‘constitute a wholly legitimate defense’ and that the regime ‘emphatically stands in unflinching support of Palestine.’’
‘To prevent Iran from accessing tens of billions of dollars to further subsidize this terrorism, we are requesting that you take immediate action,’ they wrote, demanding the administration start by ‘freezing the $6 billion provided in exchange for hostages, as well as the $10 billion in released funds based in Iraq, and withhold all waivers, general licenses and specific licenses for the use of such funds.’
‘In September, the State Department said, ‘we have the ability to freeze [the released funds] again if we need to,’’ they wrote. ‘The events of this weekend demonstrate such a necessity.’
The lawmakers also called on Biden to fully enforce sanctions on Iranian oil exports to China, which, they say, ‘have been unenforced for months despite China’s crude oil imports from Iran having set a new record.’
They further demanded that the administration ‘prevent Iran from accessing any further Special Drawing Rights from the International Monetary Fund, through which they have quick access to $6.7 billion, and blocking the further provision of funds to Iran in upcoming SDR packages.’
The letter to the president comes after both Senate Democrats and Republicans have called on him to do the same.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., posted about his support of freezing the $6 billion in Iranian assets to the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, on Tuesday.
‘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,’ the senator said. ‘At a minimum, we should immediately freeze the $6 billion in Iranian assets and explore other financial tools we have at our disposal.’
U.S. officials have said that ‘not a dollar’ of the money has been spent, but still, critics argue that the funds can be diverted to other places.
Iran is a known backer of Hamas and praised the attacks on Israel. The State Department has stated in the past that Iran provides some $100 million a year to Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Fox News’ Adam Shaw, Greg Wehner and Bradford Betz contributed to this report.