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Pompeo swipes at hawkish lawmakers who ‘grandstand’ on Iran sanctions

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Paraguay’s foreign minister, Luis Castiglioni, speak at the presidential palace in Asuncion on Saturday.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Paraguay’s foreign minister, Luis Castiglioni, speak at the presidential palace in Asuncion on Saturday. (Jorge Saenz/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said U.S. lawmakers calling for an even harder sanctions policy against Iran were grandstanding and vowed that the State Department would ultimately “get it right” when it comes to exerting the needed level of pressure.

Pompeo’s remarks come days after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) urged him not to allow a small group of nations to continue purchasing Iranian oil after U.S. sanctions waivers expire next month.

The comments exposed a rare rift between prominent Iran hawks such as Pompeo and a group including Cruz and national security adviser John Bolton that favors an even harder-line approach to fulfill a promise of getting Iran’s oil exports to zero.

Pompeo said accusations that the State Department was easing off a maximum pressure approach were “ludicrous.”

“People want to tell stories. People want to sell newspapers. I’ve got it. Congressmen will grandstand. I’ve got that, too. The State Department’s going to get it right,” he said during an interview with two reporters on his plane en route to Paraguay. “We’re going to put pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran, on the regime, until we get for the Iranian people what it is they deserve: the chance to live a normal life in a state that isn’t the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.”

Several countries, including India, Japan, China and Turkey, sought a waiver of the sanctions the Trump administration reimposed after it withdrew from the Iran deal last year. In November, the countries were allowed to continue buying Iranian oil without facing sanctions — an acknowledgment that the administration’s Iran policy has been straining U.S. relations with its allies and partners.

President Trump, who will announce his decision on the waivers when they expire in early May, has remained out of the fight brewing in his administration over the issue.

The decision pits his desire to please pro-Israel constituents who favor a hard-line Iran policy against his desire to keep oil prices low. Taking millions of barrels of Iranian oil off the market could at some point impact American consumers at the gas pump, especially as the oil market supply tightens. Cruz and others have sided with pro-Israel voices calling for a zero-tolerance policy.

“Let me urge you and urge the department unequivocally not to grant the nuclear waivers and not to grant the oil waivers,” Cruz told Pompeo during a hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. “I think maximum pressure should mean maximum pressure.”

Pompeo, who has appeared more successful than most Cabinet members in anticipating Trump’s wishes, said during the interview Friday that “the whole world can have confidence that the State Department will be on the president’s team.”

“I think the data will bear that out as well,” he said.