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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi pledges to allocate $6 billion from US prisoner swap funds for necessary purposes

Iran’s president has said his government will decide how it will spend $6bn (£4.8bn) released by the United States under a prisoner exchange deal.

The US has issued a sanctions waiver for international banks to transfer the billions in frozen Iranian funds – paving the way for the release of a British national and four Americans held in Iran.

The assets will be transferred from South Korea to Qatar, which Iran will then be able to use for buying humanitarian goods.

But in an exclusive interview with NBC News, Sky’s US partner network, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said: “This money belongs to the Islamic Republic of Iran and naturally we will decide, the Islamic Republic of Iran, will decide to spend wherever we need it.”

Asked by NBC News presenter Lester Holt, in Tehran, if the money will be used for more than humanitarian purposes, Mr Raisi replied: “Humanitarian means whatever the Iranian people need.

“This money will be budgeted for those needs and the needs of the Iranian people will be decided and determined by the Iranian government.”

US secretary of state Antony Blinken signed off on the deal last week, but Congress was only informed on Monday.

Four of those held in Iran were released from prison and placed under house arrest last month, according to US officials.

The US-Iranian dual nationals include businessmen Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Shargi, 58, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 67, who has British citizenship.

They had all been jailed at the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran on spying charges.

The identity of the fourth US citizen allowed out of prison has not been made public, while a fifth man was already under house arrest.

The agreement also includes the release of five unnamed Iranian citizens held in the US.

Asked by Holt when the Americans will be released, Mr Raisi said: “The arrangements have been done.

“The final action of swapping the prisoners should be finalised in due time.”

Asked if they were in good health, he replied: “Yes, they are very healthy and according to our latest information, they are in full health.”

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The deal has been criticised by Republicans, with senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas accusing President Joe Biden‘s administration of “paying ransom to the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism”.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said it was “ridiculous… to be blackmailed”.

The families of the Americans held in Iran said their loved ones are “hostages” taken captive on false charges and used as bargaining chips by the government.

Namazi, who in 2016 was convicted of espionage-related charges the US has rejected as baseless, has been detained by Iran for more than seven years.

Tahbaz was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for “assembly and collusion against Iran’s national security” and working for the US as a spy.

Shargi was convicted of espionage in 2020 and also sentenced to 10 years in prison.

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