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Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Senate GOP calls for freezing $6B of Iran assets despite pause

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) plan to plow ahead with their legislation to freeze $6 billion in Iranian assets, despite the news that the United States and Qatar already agreed to stop Tehran from accessing those funds.

McConnell and Cotton announced earlier this week that they’d seek unanimous consent to pass their bill that would lock the assets back down. This comes just weeks after the funds were released as part of a prison-swap agreement between the United States and Iran.

In light of Hamas’ horrific terror attacks on Israel — and Iran’s long-standing support for Hamas — there’s widespread bipartisan support for re-freezing the account, which is based in Qatar. We scooped on Thursday that Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo told House Democrats that the money wouldn’t be going to Iran “anytime soon.”

The White House said earlier this week that none of the money had been spent and that it was only to be used for humanitarian purposes.

This was a key component of the prisoner swap, and part of the administration’s wider efforts over the past two years to engage in diplomacy with Tehran after former President Donald Trump axed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

The bill from McConnell and Cotton will likely have a filibuster-proof majority behind it, but any one senator can object to its swift passage on the floor.

It’s unclear how Democratic leadership will handle the issue. McConnell and Cotton will seek unanimous consent regardless of the agreement with Qatar, we’re told, in part because that deal doesn’t have the force of law and the funds could still be released at any point.

Several red-state Democrats up for reelection in 2024 have already joined Republicans in saying the funds should be frozen, so this could be an interesting showdown on the Senate floor next week.

It’s possible that Congress will seek to punish Iran even further with new sanctions. That would effectively kill what has been a relatively fruitless effort by the Biden administration to reengage with Iran.

Biden administration officials have told lawmakers privately that there isn’t yet evidence connecting the Iranian government to Hamas’ terror attacks on Israel last weekend.

But lawmakers from both parties, as well as executive branch officials, have noted that Iran’s support for Hamas — both materially and financially — is well-established. And it’s clear that the brutality of Hamas’ terror attacks on Israel has completely altered the West’s posture toward Iran.

— Andrew Desiderio

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