Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) will soon introduce new legislation that would compel the Trump administration to eradicate the remaining vestiges of the landmark Iran nuclear deal, the lawmaker told the Washington Free Beacon.
Cheney's legislative effort comes as GOP hawks in Congress have launched an offensive against the Trump administration's decision to again grant Iran sanctions waivers that permit it to conduct sensitive nuclear work, including at an underground bunker site that once housed the regime's atomic weapons program.
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The legislation is yet another sign of mounting frustration among hawkish Republicans over the Trump administration's mixed signals on Iran. Critics allege the administration is backtracking on its own "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran in order to preserve possible diplomacy with Tehran down the road.
The Free Beacon reported last week that the Trump administration's State Department had signed off on the nuclear waivers, despite public and private pressure from anti-Iran voices on Capitol Hill. The debate marks one of the clearest divides yet between typically faithful Trump administration supporters in Congress and those inside the administration.
Cheney told the Free Beacon that the waivers have helped legitimize Iran's nuclear infrastructure and paved a way for it to continue working on sensitive nuclear issues with help from countries such as China and Russia.
"These ‘civil nuclear' waivers legitimize Iran's illicit nuclear infrastructure and help sustain President Obama's disastrous nuclear deal," Cheney said. "Congress is determined to support President Donald Trump's rightful exit from that deal and his successful maximum pressure campaign against Tehran."
"That is why I will soon be introducing legislation that revokes these exceptions and ensures that the nuclear deal is totally and completely dismantled," Cheney said.
Cheney is leading the legislative effort on the House side, and at least a dozen lawmakers have already expressed support for the initiative, Capitol Hill sources said.
The nuclear waivers have emerged as a flashpoint in the administration, with some elements arguing that they must remain in place in order to protect a possible pathway to diplomatic negotiations with Tehran.
Critics of the waivers view them as an effort by Obama administration officials and their allies still in government to keep the nuclear deal on life support, despite Trump's decision to abandon the accord.
Iran hawks in the Senate are working on parallel legislation that would kill the nuclear waivers.
Senators Ted Cruz (R., Tex.) and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) condemned the administration late last week, accusing it of walking back its own maximum pressure campaign on Tehran. They support Cheney's effort and are leading the Senate's parallel effort.
"This is disappointing and another lost opportunity to tear up the catastrophic Obama-Iran nuclear deal once and for all," Cruz and Graham said in a joint statement on the matter. "President Trump should immediately order his administration to stop issuing civil nuclear waivers."
"These waivers allow Iran to build up its nuclear program, including at their Fordow nuclear bunker, which they dug out of the side of a mountain to build nuclear weapons," the senators said. "Iran is now openly violating the nuclear deal and stockpiling dangerous nuclear material. There is no justification for letting them continue to build up their program. We intend to work with our congressional colleagues to advance legislation to reverse this misguided decision."
U.S. officials confirmed to the Free Beacon late last week that the nuclear waivers had already been signed.
"Yes, we issued the waivers and understand the differing views and sensitivities involved," one U.S. official familiar with the matter told the Free Beacon at the time. "The secretary takes his responsibility on this matter very seriously and will be happy to discuss his views with any congressman or senator who calls."
The State Department quietly confirmed the move on Friday, arguing that it will help the administration keep tabs on Iran's nuclear work.
"This decision will help preserve oversight of Iran's civil nuclear program, reduce proliferation risks, constrain Iran's ability to shorten its ‘breakout time' to a nuclear weapon, and prevent the regime from reconstituting sites for proliferation-sensitive purposes," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Iran announced on Monday that it would move forward with the installation of advanced nuclear centrifuges capable of quickly enriching uranium, the key component in a nuclear weapon. This is in direct violation of the nuclear agreement.
"We have installed 15 new-generation centrifuges in the past two months which is a very big achievement," Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, was quoted as telling Iran's state-controlled media.
Congressional sources familiar with the latest legislative push told the Free Beacon that Iran's continued escalations should be a wakeup call to the Trump administration.
"The Iranian regime didn't even wait a week before escalating their nuclear violations," said the source, who would only discuss the matter on background. "They're deliberately trying to make it as embarrassing and humiliating as possible for President Trump and the United States to keep implementing the Iran nuclear deal and giving them nuclear goodies."