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-Texas, 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 President Donald Trump's 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.
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.
Also Saturday, Pompeo called Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a "tyrant" who has caused the ruin of the South American country and its people.
Pompeo made the comment during a four-day Latin American tour that brought him to the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion, where he talked with President Mario Abdo Benitez about the economic and political crisis in Venezuela, strengthening democracy in the region and combating transnational crime.
"Look no further than the current crisis in Venezuela to see our teamwork in action. Together, we are working to restore stability and democracy from the chaos caused by Maduro," he said.
"As a member of the Lima Group, Paraguay stands among the leaders in our hemisphere in defense of democracy, in calling out Maduro for what he truly is -- a power-hungry tyrant who has brought ruin to his country and to his people."
Pompeo also said that Paraguay was a partner in U.S. efforts to oust socialist Maduro and replace him with opposition leader Juan Guaido, whose claim to be interim president has been backed by dozens of countries.
Pompeo is traveling to Peru before making a final stop in the Colombian border town of Cucuta today to meet with representatives of Venezuelan refugees.
Information for this article was contributed by John Hudson of The Washington Post and by staff members of The Associated Press.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference Saturday in Lima, Peru, part of a four-day Latin American trip.
A Section on 04/14/2019
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