The US waived sanctions to allow the transfer of US$6 billion (about RM28 billion) in Iranian funds from South Korea to Qatar, a step needed to carry out a previously announced US-Iran prisoner swap, according to a US document seen by Reuters on Monday.
The broad outlines of the US-Iran deal under which five US citizens detained by Iran would be allowed to leave in exchange for the transfer of the funds and the release of five Iranians held in the US were made public on Aug 10.
According to the State Department document seen by Reuters, Secretary of State Antony Blinken determined that waiving the sanctions was in the national security interests of the US.
The document sent to US congressional committees marks the first time the US government has formally acknowledged it is releasing five Iranians detained in the US as part of the agreement to secure the freedom of the five US citizens.
"To facilitate their release, the US has committed to release five Iranian nationals currently detained in the US and to permit the transfer of approximately US$6 billion in Iranian funds held in restricted accounts in the (Republic of Korea) to restricted accounts in Qatar, where the funds will be available only for humanitarian trade," it said.
The document said the transfer of funds would only provide "limited benefit to Iran" since the funds can only be used for humanitarian trade.
"Allowing these funds to be transferred from restricted Iranian accounts held in the (Republic of Korea) to accounts in Qatar for humanitarian trade is necessary to facilitate the release of these US citizens," the document said.
White House spokesman Adrienne Watson said in a statement late on Monday that Blinken, on Sept 8, had undertaken "a procedural step in an ongoing process to ensure Iranian funds can move from one restricted account to another and remain restricted to humanitarian trade."
She said the administration had kept Congress informed from the start of the process.
"As we have said from the outset, what is being pursued here is an arrangement wherein we secure the release of 5 wrongfully held Americans. This remains a sensitive and ongoing process," she said. "While this is a step in the process, no individuals have been or will be released into US custody this week."
The transfer of the US$6 billion and the prisoner exchange could take place as early as next week, according to eight Iranian and other sources familiar with the negotiations.
The waiver applies to certain financial institutions that fall under the primary jurisdiction of Germany, Ireland, Qatar, South Korea and Switzerland to engage in transactions with the National Iranian Oil Company, the Central Bank of Iran and other Iranian financial institutions under US sanctions, it added.