Iran-US prisoner swap: How Democrats and Republicans reacted to the deal

Republicans decry the exchange as US officials hail the release of detainees and warn Americans against travel to Iran.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a news conference as he announces that five Americans who had been jailed for years in Iran have been freed, in New York, U.S. Sept. 18, 2023.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announces the release of five American citizens from Iranian custody at a news conference in New York City on September 18 [Craig Ruttle/Reuters pool]

Washington, DC – Republicans have denounced Monday’s prisoner swap between the United States and Iran, saying that the deal provides an incentive for Tehran to detain more Americans in future.

Officials in the administration of US President Joe Biden, however, hailed the release of the five US citizens from Iranian custody, adding that they would soon be reunited with their families.

Five Iranian prisoners in the US were likewise returned to their home country.

The Qatar-brokered agreement also saw the unfreezing of $6bn in Iranian funds formerly held in South Korea. Prior to Monday’s deal, the funds could not be transferred due to US sanctions against Iran.

Here’s how Republicans and Democrats reacted to the agreement.

Biden says detainees are ‘finally coming home’

Biden lauded the release of the American detainees on Monday.

“Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home,” the president said in a statement.

He also vowed to continue to push for the release of other US citizens imprisoned abroad.

“We remain unflinching in our efforts to keep faith with them and their families — and we will not stop working until we bring home every American held hostage or wrongfully detained,” Biden said.

The Democratic president highlighted one case in particular: that of Bob Levinson, who went missing in Iran in 2007. Biden called on Tehran to give a “full account of what happened” to him.

Several other US officials also called on Monday for Iran to share what it knows about Levinson, who was on an unauthorised CIA mission when he was last seen in Iran, according to a 2013 report from the Associated Press news agency.

Donald Trump slams prisoner swap

Former US President Donald Trump slammed the prisoner swap on Monday, calling Biden “dumb” for agreeing to unfreeze the Iranian funds.

“This absolutely ridiculous 6 Billion Dollar Hostage Deal with Iran has set a terrible PRECEDENT for the future,” Trump wrote in a post on his Truth Social website.

“Buckel [sic] up, you are going to see some terrible things start to happen. The 3 years ago highly respected USA has become a laughingstock all over the WORLD. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. VOTE TRUMP!!!”

In 2018, Trump — who is leading the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination — nixed the multilateral nuclear deal that curbed Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for international sanction relief.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump is the frontrunner to be the Republican Party’s US presidential nominee in 2024 [File: Reba Saldanha/Reuters]

US ‘confident’ funds will be used for humanitarian purposes: Blinken

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the deal gives Iran access to “its own money”, not US funds, addressing a common misconception surrounding the negotiations.

He added that Washington will make sure that the $6bn is only used for humanitarian purposes.

“We’re very confident that the Iranian funds that had been made more easily available to Iran as a result of the actions that we’ve taken will be used exclusively for humanitarian purposes,” Blinken told reporters. “And we have the means and mechanisms to make sure that that happens.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said in an interview with NBC News last week that Iran will spend the $6bn “wherever” it wants.

Republican congressman decries ‘failed leadership’

Republican Congressman Pat Fallon decried what he called “Biden and Antony Blinken’s failed leadership on the world stage” after the prisoner swap on Monday.

Key Democrat welcomes release of detainees, warns against travel to Iran

Bob Menendez, the Democratic chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, applauded the release of the detainees but warned Americans against travelling to Iran.

“They should have never been detained in the first place, and I welcome them back to the loving embrace of their families. This is a moment to celebrate,” Menendez said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, all Americans must understand the risks they take when traveling to Iran or other countries who detain Americans for political leverage — no one is safe, no one is spared.”

Centrist Democrat says deal ‘disconcerting on the surface’

Congressman Dean Phillips, a centrist Democrat, said the prisoner swap was “disconcerting on the surface”, but he called for more information about the deal.

“Iran is a clear and present danger, and the prisoner swap deal is disconcerting on the surface,” Phillips wrote in a social media post. “That said, it’s irresponsible to draw conclusions until the Administration shares more information. I’m hopeful there’s more than meets the eye, and will opine once that’s clear.”

Republican senator invokes 9/11 attacks

Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn invoked the attacks on September 11, 2001, as she criticised the prisoner-swap deal on Monday.

The Biden administration had informed Congress last week that it was granting sanction waivers to allow the transfer of the Iranian funds, an announcement that coincided with the 22nd anniversary of 9/11.

Iran was not involved in the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, DC.

Congressman ‘overjoyed’ by constituent’s release

Democratic Congressman Jim Himes, who represents Connecticut, welcomed the release of detainee Morad Tahbaz, one of his constituents, without commenting on the political aspects of the deal.

“I am overjoyed to hear that, after almost six years of wrongful detention in Iran, Morad Tahbaz can finally return home to Connecticut,” Himes said in a statement. “Morad is a father, a cancer survivor, and a wildlife conservationist who was unjustly charged while working to protect endangered wildlife in Iran.”

Source: Al Jazeera