Republican Thompson highlights serious Iran threat

Date: 06-19-07

By Katherine Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Tougher sanctions or a blockade on Iran could help foment growing internal dissent to topple the government, former U.S. Republican senator Fred Thompson, a potential presidential candidate, said on Tuesday.

Military action must always remain an option and world powers must agree on the nature of what Thompson called the "very, very serious threat" from Tehran.

Thompson, who has taken an early step toward a 2008 presidential bid for the Republicans, suggested most Europeans did not view the threat from "radical Islamic fundamentalism" with the same gravity as most Americans.

Iran's poor economy and domestic opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could prompt "regime change", Thompson said.

"We have a lot of friends in Iran who apparently feel their leader is trying to drive them off of a militant, religious extremism cliff," he said.

"Some of these problems might work in our favor especially if we ratcheted the sanctions a bit more. I would think that certainly a blockade would be a possibility if we could get the international cooperation to do that.

"I think regime change might be an option ... but you can't take the military option off the table." Thompson, an actor, answered questions after giving a speech in London.

Iran is at loggerheads with the West over its nuclear program which Washington fears could lead to Tehran building atomic bombs. Two sets of sanctions have been imposed and the United States says "all options are on the table" for dealing with Iran.

Thompson is exploring a presidential bid and is expected to formally enter the White House race in July. His expected candidacy has been fuelled in part by conservative dissatisfaction with the 10 candidates vying to win the Republican nomination and he has risen to the top of polls.


Thompson, a supporter of the Iraq war, said many Europeans saw no link between the conflict and global terrorism.

"Many in Europe simply have a different view to that in the United States as to the threat from radical Islamic fundamentalism," he said.

"Most Americans ... understand the Western world is in an international struggle with jihadists."

Thompson, who backed the Iraq war, said Washington must avoid appearing weak by withdrawing its troops. He said he did not know if Bush had a "Plan B" to end the chaos in the country.

"I hope the political process allows us to avail ourselves of every realistic opportunity we have to leave that place under better than horrible circumstances," he said.

Thompson said the Anglo-American alliance was vital and changes in governments in both countries would have no fundamental impact on this relationship.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, who backed Bush's U.S.-led war on Iraq and suffered politically for it, steps down on June 27 and will be replaced by long-standing finance minister Gordon Brown.

"America will always view Mr. Blair as one of those gallant friends even if it did him no good politically," Thompson said.

"Differences of party and domestic policy are incidental. what matters most is the commitment we share."

Thompson was meeting former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in London, whom he said he admired.


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