Fact Check: Biden Did NOT Give $16 Billion Of US Money To Iran In 2023; They're Frozen Iranian Assets

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: Biden Did NOT Give $16 Billion Of US Money To Iran In 2023; They're Frozen Iranian Assets On Hold

Did President Joe Biden give $16 billion of American money away to Iran in 2023? No, that's not true: First, it's important to say that the amount in question is $6 billion, not $16 billion. Secondly, the money wasn't U.S. taxpayer dollars to begin with; the funds were Iranian financial assets that had been frozen in South Korea due to diplomatic tensions with Washington and were blocked again following the October 7, 2023, Hamas attack on Israel.

The claim appeared in a post (archived here) on X, formerly Twitter, by Joey Mannarino on April 13, 2024. The post's caption said:

Anyone remember when this guy handed $16,000,000,000 to Iran last year?

This is what the post looked like on X at the time of writing:


(Source: X screenshot taken on Mon Apr 15 17:25:34 2024 UTC)

The social media post offered no evidence to support its assertion.


Significant Iranian financial assets are held in overseas banks, serving purposes like international trade, financial reserves and currency exchange. Pressure from the United States and Europe has led to freezes on Iran's access to these funds for more than a decade.

In 2014, Iran repatriated $4.2 billion from its overseas revenues as part of an interim nuclear deal. The completed deal became known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was signed by China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Union and Iran in 2015. The deal was meant to ensure that Iran's nuclear program would be "exclusively peaceful."

Following the JCPOA, which was adopted (archived here) in October 2015 and implemented in January 2016, Iran regained access to a significant portion of its frozen or restricted foreign assets, estimated at around $100 billion, including government revenue and foreign exchange reserves held by the Iranian Central Bank.

However, it's unclear how much of this money Iran has repatriated since then.

The math

The claim that the Biden administration "handed" $16 billion to Iran in 2023 is greatly exaggerated, and the implication that the president was giving away American taxpayer dollars is false. The funds totaling $6 billion were part of a deal to release five U.S. citizens (archived here) held by Iran.

Heather Williams, acting director of the International Security and Defense Policy Program at the RAND National Security Research Division, told Lead Stories in an April 15, 2024, email that none of the money came from the United States. She said:

In August 2023, the United States agreed to South Korea allowing Iran to convert the equivalent of roughly $6 billion USD from South Korean won to euros, and to have the money transferred to an account in Qatar. The funds were for Iranian oil legally purchased by South Korea (prior to new U.S. sanctions put in place in 2019).

Qatar agreed to hold the money in question in restricted accounts, where they could only be used for humanitarian goods, such as medicine and food, which are allowed under American sanctions. The agreement came in exchange for the release of five detained Americans in Iran.

There are some outstanding questions about how Qatar intends to enforce these restrictions.

Williams said things changed when Hamas attacked Israel in October 2023, killing more than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals. The Palestinian militant group is heavily financed by Iran. She continued:

The U.S. administration indicated in October 2023 that Iran would no longer have access to these funds after Hamas's 10/7 attack on Israel, and the No Funds for Iranian Terrorism Act introduced sanctions to that regard.

Iran claimed in December 2023 that it was still able to utilize those funds, but I find this claim circumspect.

There is no clear evidence Iran has used any of this money.

The No Funds for Iranian Terrorism Act, passed by the U.S. House in late 2023 and sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, specifically blocks that money. It says:

This bill requires the President to impose property-blocking sanctions on foreign financial institutions and international financial institutions that process, participate in, or facilitate a transaction involving certain Iranian funds (namely, the approximately $6 billion of Iranian funds that the Biden administration permitted to be transferred from restricted accounts in South Korea to restricted accounts in Qatar to facilitate the release of five U.S. citizens detained in Iran).

An October 12, 2023, story by Axios reported (archived here) that the Biden administration was telling congressional Democrats that Iran would not be able to access the $6 billion held by Qatar.

Read more

Other Lead Stories fact checks of claims about Iran can be found here.

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  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

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