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Veterans, families urge administration not to release billions in frozen funds to Iran until terrorism cases are settled

The U.S. this month agreed to allow Iran access to some funds frozen in South Korea.
Missiles are displayed at a rally in Tehran on Feb. 10 to commemorate the 42nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Missiles are displayed at a rally in Tehran on Feb. 10 to commemorate the 42nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.Morteza Nikoubazl / NurPhoto via Getty Images

U.S. military veterans and their families called on the Biden administration Thursday not to release frozen funds to Iran as part of nuclear negotiations until U.S. victims of terrorist attacks carried out by the Tehran regime or its proxies are compensated.

More than 1,000 veterans and family members of those killed or wounded in bombings and other attacks in Iraq and elsewhere asked President Joe Biden in a letter to meet with some of the families whose loved ones were killed.

“We share your view that Iran must never be allowed to develop or acquire nuclear weapons, but we do not believe that any sanctions on Iran should be lifted or suspended that result in the release of frozen funds until all outstanding judgments and pending claims against Iran and the IRGC have been fully satisfied,” said the letter, which was obtained by NBC News. The IGRC is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“In our view, Iran’s frozen funds should go first to the regime’s American victims before a single dollar goes to the regime itself,” the letter said.

The letter estimated that $60 billion in terrorism lawsuit judgments and associated liens have gone unpaid because of U.S. court cases against Iran, with billions more tied up in pending claims.

U.S. officials have said Iranian-backed militias killed hundreds of U.S. troops in the Iraq war. Iran has denied any role in the attacks.

The U.S. and European powers have reported modest progress in talks with Iran in Vienna over reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, which was designed to prevent Tehran from building nuclear weapons.

Throughout the talks, Iran has demanded that the U.S. unblock billions of dollars around the world that have been frozen by U.S. sanctions. 

The 2015 agreement eased sanctions on Tehran in return for strict limits on its nuclear program, including restrictions on enriching uranium and using advanced centrifuges. When the deal was signed, the U.S. unblocked some Iranian assets.

President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the accord in 2018, reimposed economic sanctions on Iran and added new measures. As a result of the reimposed sanctions, Iran cannot gain access to assets abroad, including revenue from some oil sales and other transactions.

The Treasury Department said this month that it would allow South Korea to send at least $63 million in overdue damages to an Iranian company. U.S. sanctions had blocked the money, and Iran has been seeking access to billions of dollars frozen in South Korea and other countries.

The move followed talks between South Korea’s deputy foreign minister, Choi Jong-kun, and the U.S. special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley. Iran says the U.S. has blocked about $7 billion in South Korea related to oil shipments.

Since the U.S. left the 2015 deal, Iran has violated its limits on its nuclear activities and hampered access for U.N. nuclear inspectors.

Biden administration officials say time is running out to reach an agreement to rescue the deal.