The Republican camp accuses Joe Biden of having dealt with Iran after the Hamas attack on Israel.
WATERLOO, Iowa: Former President Donald Trump and other Republican Party contenders tried to shift blame to the Biden administration after Hamas militants launched the deadliest attack on Israel in decades, citing a $6 billion transfer to Iran that administration officials insisted Saturday had not yet been spent.
Hamas’ surprise attack Saturday morning, during a major Jewish holiday, marks a new foreign policy front in a presidential election already unusually dominated by foreign affairs. Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine has divided the Republican camp, with some like Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis questioning continued U.S. involvement, while others, like former Vice -President Mike Pence, insist that support for Ukraine’s military is vital to U.S. national security interests.
On Saturday, the candidates seemed united, alongside Israel.
“Hamas’ terrorist invasion of Israeli territory and the killing of Israeli soldiers today and the brutal killing of citizens is an act of savagery that must and will be crushed,” Trump said during an appearance in Waterloo, Iowa.
Trump, like others, placed direct blame on the $6 billion — “American taxpayer dollars helped fund these attacks,” he said in an earlier statement — and argued that under Biden , the United States is seen as “weak and ineffective” on the world stage. , opening the door to hostility.
“They didn’t have that level of aggression towards me. They didn’t have it. That would never have happened with me either,” Trump said, later adding in Cedar Rapids that Biden had “betrayed Israel” with the deal.
Biden on Saturday denounced the “unconscionable” aggression and pledged to ensure Israel has “what it needs to defend itself” after the attack.
Much of the Republican criticism has focused on a complex deal announced by the Biden administration in September to release five U.S. citizens held in Iran. As part of the deal, approximately $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets held in South Korea were transferred to an account in Doha, Qatar.
Although Hamas is a Sunni Muslim group, it has a militant wing that has long maintained close ties to Iran, a source of funding and a Shiite power. Hamas and Iran are united by a common enmity toward Israel.
Administration officials said Saturday that no money from the Doha account has been spent so far.
The $6 billion amount does not represent U.S. taxpayer money, senior Biden administration officials stressed at the time of the deal, but rather payments made by South Korea to Iran to purchase oil in recent years. The funds were blocked in South Korea due to US sanctions. That money is now held in a restricted account in Doha and is intended to be used only for humanitarian purposes — such as food and medicine for Iranians — and managed by what the administration has described as approved non-Iranian vendors.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said his country would spend the money “wherever we need it,” although the United States responded that it would exercise rigorous oversight over how the funds are disbursed and would could freeze assets again if necessary.
DeSantis, in a video statement, accused Biden of “policies that have been easy on Iran” and have “helped fill their coffers.” Israel is now paying the price for these policies. We are going to stand with the State of Israel, they must eliminate Hamas and we must stand up to Iran.”
And South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott claimed the attack was “Biden’s $6 billion ransom payment to work.”
“We not only invited this aggression, we paid for it,” he said in a statement.
Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said she could not respond directly to Republican criticism because of federal restrictions.
“But I can clarify the facts: not a single penny of 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,” he said. she declared on Saturday in a press release. “These funds have absolutely nothing to do with today’s horrific attacks and now is not the time to spread disinformation. »
Brian Nelson, Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, also stressed that “these restricted funds cannot go to Iran” and that “any suggestion to the contrary is false and misleading.”
Pence also blamed Biden, saying the current administration is “projecting weakness on the world stage” and “bowing down to the Iranian mullahs.” But during an appearance in Iowa, Pence also turned attention to his Republican rivals who advocate more isolationist policies, particularly toward Ukraine, calling the attack “a testament to the fact that we need new leadership in the White House, but so do we.” We need leadership in the Republican Party that understands what’s at stake, that understands that we can achieve peace through strength.
“I call on Donald Trump, Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis,” he said, “to abandon the language of appeasement – to say that we will stand strong with Israel, that we will stand strong with Ukraine , that we will be the leader of the country. the free world. »