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Nikki Haley calls Antony Blinken ‘irresponsible’ for failing to connect U.S. money to Hamas attack on Israel

The Republican presidential candidate also warned that the attack should be a "wake-up" call for the U.S. “We don’t need to wait for another 9/11," she said on "Meet the Press."
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Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley pushed back Sunday after Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that the Biden administration does not have any evidence of Iran's direct involvement in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Candidates running for the GOP's 2024 nomination on Saturday pointed fingers at the Biden administration for Hamas’ deadly attack against Israel. Several have insinuated, without evidence, that the attack is funded by the administration’s prisoner exchange with Iran. The administration informed Congress last month that it had issued a waiver to give Tehran access to $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue that U.S. sanctions had blocked, according to a State Department document sent to Congress and obtained by NBC News.

Notably, Haley, who was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration, did not join most of her Republican rivals in explicitly blaming the Biden administration for Hamas' attack Saturday. She did, however, directly criticize it in an interview Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”

“Do you think it was irresponsible of your rivals to level that allegation without any evidence or proof?” NBC News' Kristen Welker asked.

Haley said: “I actually think it was irresponsible for Secretary Blinken to say that the $6 billion doesn’t weigh in here. I mean, let’s be honest with the American people and understand that Hamas knows and Iran knows they’re moving money around as we speak, because they know 6 billion is going to be released. That’s the reality.”

Haley then claimed that when she was the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. she went to the International Atomic Energy Agency and heard that funds the Obama administration had authorized for Iran were sent to militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

“They go and spread terrorism every time they get $1,” she said. “It doesn’t go to the Iranian people. It does go to terrorist attacks, and Secretary Blinken, it’s just wrong to imply that this money is not being moved around as we speak.”

In a separate interview earlier on "Meet the Press," Blinken was asked whether Iran played a role in Hamas’ attack, which came amid talks among the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel about a potential landmark agreement to normalize relations.

“We don’t have anything that shows us that Iran was directly involved in this attack, in planning it or carrying out, but that’s something we’re looking at very carefully,” he said. “And we’ve got to see where the facts lead.”

However, Blinken did not reject the notion that the talks surrounding a potential deal to normalize relationships could have played a role: “It’s no surprise that those who are opposed to the talks, those who are opposed to Israel normalizing its relations with its neighbors and with countries beyond the region, are: Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.”

Reached for comment about Haley’s remarks, the State Department pointed NBC News to Blinken's earlier remarks on "Meet the Press."

Haley also warned that the U.S. should view Hamas' attack as a "wake-up" call, arguing that Iran could enter the U.S. through the southern border.

She said: “We have an open border. People are coming through. They’re not being vetted. We don’t need to wait for another 9/11.

“You also look at the fact that, Kristen, America is incredibly distracted and incredibly divided, and when America’s distracted, the world is less safe,” she added. “And look at what happened to Israel. They waited for them to be distracted, and that’s when your enemies move in. America needs to wake up.”

The Biden administration has rejected Republicans’ argument that U.S. taxpayers are funding the $6 billion in oil revenue that Iran regained access to recently.

“All of the money held in restricted accounts in Doha as part of the arrangement to secure the release of 5 Americans in September remains in Doha. Not a penny has been spent,” Treasury Undersecretary Brian Nelson tweeted. “These restricted funds cannot go to Iran — it can only be used for future humanitarian-related purposes. Any suggestion to the contrary is false and misleading.”

National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson also said none of the money has been spent thus far.

“I can’t comment on 2024 because of the Hatch Act. But I can clarify the facts: Not a single cent from these funds has been spent, and when it is spent, it can only be spent on things like food and medicine for the Iranian people,” Watson wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “These funds have absolutely nothing to do with the horrific attacks today and this is not the time to spread.”

(The Hatch Act limits executive branch employees’ political activities.)

A senior administration official said: “The ability to use these funds in Qatar will be tied directly to payment for bona fide humanitarian items — food, agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices only — requests vetted and approved by Qatari banks and their European correspondents, who are themselves committed to sanctions compliance. No funds go into Iran — ever. These funds will be used solely to provide essential humanitarian support to the Iranian people, with payment to vetted third-party vendors.”