SECRETARY BLINKEN: [...]
Finally, last week we confirmed that Iranian authorities released five U.S. citizens from prison to house arrest – Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Shargi, and two Americans who wish to remain private. Most have been in prison since before this administration took office. One has been held for nearly eight years. None should have been detained in the first place.
Yesterday I spoke with several of these detainees’ loved ones. Their resilience, their courage, never ceases to inspire. My message to them is the same thing that you’ll hear from me today. Moving our people to house arrest is a positive step, but they are not yet home. We’re closely monitoring their well-being, we’re especially grateful to our Swiss partners for their on-the-ground support, and we will not rest until our fellow citizens are back in the United States reunited with their families.
Nothing about our overall approach to Iran has changed. We continue to pursue a strategy of deterrence, of pressure, and diplomacy. We remain committed to ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. We continue to hold the regime accountable for its human rights abuses, destabilizing actions in the region, funding of terrorism, provision of drones to Russia, for its use in the war against Ukraine, among many other offenses.
We’ve been clear that Iran must de-escalate to create space for future diplomacy. This development – that is, the move of our detainees out of prison and to home detention – is not linked to any other aspect of our Iran policy. It is simply about our people.
You’ve heard me say this before: I have no higher priority than looking out for the security and well-being of Americans around the world. Our department will continue to do everything we can to gain the release of those who are unjustly held around the world.
And I have a couple of questions on Iran. The Wall Street Journal on Friday reported that Iran has slowed the pace at which it is accumulating near-weapons-grade enriched uranium. Is this correct? Based on the information you have, have they really slowed? Was their decision to do so in any way related to or part of the U.S.-Iran agreement that was announced last week?
And last but not least, why isn’t the U.S. permanent resident Shahab Dalili, who’s been detained in Iran since 2016, part of this deal? And why hasn’t he been designated as wrongfully detained? His son is outside the State Department today and is on a hunger strike to protest, asking the same questions. Thank you, sir.
With regard to the questions about Iran, I can’t confirm the reports that you’ve cited. What I can say is, of course, we would welcome any steps that Iran takes to actually de-escalate the growing nuclear threat that it has posed since the United States got out of the Iran nuclear agreement. And, of course, we’ve been very focused on that, and President Biden’s determination to assure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon remains rock solid.
There is no agreement between us on nuclear matters. The agreement that we’re pursuing, to bring home those who are wrongfully detained in Iran, is an entirely separate matter that we want to bring to a successful conclusion, and that’s what I’m focused on.
I think it’s important to note that, even as we have been pursuing this effort to bring our Americans home, we have continued to pursue very vigorously our efforts to counter a whole variety of actions being taken by Iran that we profoundly object to and so do many other countries around the world. You see that in the continued implementation of sanctions against Iran. You see that in the steps that we’ve taken just recently to shore up our military presence in the Gulf to account for the Iranians trying to interfere with shipping. You see that in a whole variety of areas, where we are pushing back against Iran’s abuses of human rights, its destabilizing actions, its ballistic missiles, its funding of terrorism, the provision of drones to Russia for use in Ukraine. So there is a long list of things that Iran is engaged in and a long list of actions that we continue to take to oppose what Iran is doing.
Finally, the five Americans who have been moved from prison to home detention and who we expect to come home in the weeks ahead are Americans who’ve been found to be designated as wrongfully detained. We continue to look and will always continue to look at the situations, conditions of other Americans around the world who may be detained.
QUESTION: Thanks so much, Mr. Secretary. I wanted to ask two questions, one on Iran, just sort of following up on Humeyra. With regard to the transfer of funds, which the U.S. has said you’re working out the details, what are – what kind of enforcement mechanisms are we going to see so we know that the Iranian Government is not necessarily abusing those funds? And then that would somehow be connected to the deal that the U.S. had partially brokered to get their funds released.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks. So first, on Iran – and it’s important to be very, very clear about this – the funds in question are not American funds; they’re not American taxpayer money. They are Iranian funds that have been in South Korean banks for a number of years. From day one of our sanctions, there has always been an exemption for the use of funds for humanitarian purposes. The previous administration allowed several countries to continue purchasing oil from Iran and to place those funds in special accounts, and they allowed those accounts to be spent down for – for purposes with actually limited oversight. And that’s – the funds in the – in South Korea, that’s how they wound up there in the first place.
The dollars that are being made available – that is, Iranian funds that are being made now available to Iran – this is a way of actually facilitating their use strictly for humanitarian purposes and in a strictly controlled way – again, purposes that have been exempt from day one from our sanctions. Iran will not have direct access to these funds. There will be significant oversight and visibility from the United States.