Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley on Sunday pushed back 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 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 served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, did not join most of her Republican 2024 rivals in explicitly blaming the Biden administration for Hamas’ attack against Israel on Saturday. She did, however, directly criticize the Biden administration in an interview on “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
“Do you think it was irresponsible of your rivals to level that allegation without any evidence or proof?” asked NBC News’ Kristen Welker.
“I actually think it was irresponsible for Secretary Blinken to say that the $6 billion doesn’t weigh in here,” she said. “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 during her time as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. she went to the International Atomic Energy Agency and heard that funds the Obama administration 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 on Israel, which came amid talks between 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 didn’t reject the notion that the talks surrounding a potential deal to normalize relationships could have played a role in the ongoing attack: “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.”
Blinken’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Haley also warned that America should view Hamas’ attack on Israel should 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 dismissed GOP criticism, rejecting their 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,” tweeted Treasury undersecretary Brian Nelson. “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 that none of the funds 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 in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “These funds have absolutely nothing to do with the horrific attacks today and this is not the time to spread.”
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.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com
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