- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fred Thompson yesterday called for the U.S. to use its influence to stop World Bank funding to Iran, becoming the latest 2008 Republican presidential candidate to address what may be the next president’s major foreign-policy challenge.

“American taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be used so that Tehran can divert its own money into a nuclear weapons program,” said Mr. Thompson, a former senator from Tennessee, as he urged the U.S. to use its annual contribution of about $1 billion to the World Bank to pressure the organization to withdraw funding for nine current projects.

With the Republicans finding themselves mostly in agreement on Iraq policy, Iran is turning into a place to show how, if elected to office, they would handle the challenges posed by its activities in Iraq, its contentious nuclear program and its support for terrorism. And while all of them take a get-tough approach, they differ on using military might.

Mitt Romney began running a radio ad in early primary states this week arguing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be indicted for crimes under the Geneva Conventions, while fellow candidate and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said military action was in the cards if Iran appeared close to achieving nuclear weapons.

“If they get to the point that they are going to become a nuclear power, we will prevent them or we will set them back five or 10 years,” he said.

Potential Republican candidate Newt Gingrich has said the U.S. must pursue a diplomatic strategy, not a military one.

“I’m opposed to bombing — it won’t work,” he told reporters this month, calling instead for tougher sanctions to cripple the government and threaten its political stability.

That stands in stark contrast to Sen. John McCain, who earlier this year made headlines for singing “bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran,” to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad, who spoke at Columbia University on Monday and at the United Nations in New York yesterday, has touted his country’s nuclear capabilities even as he denies it is seeking a weapons program, and even as he defends its right to such a program.

Republicans and Democrats alike criticized Columbia for allowing the speech — though even that turned into an exercise in one-upmanship among the candidates.

Mr. Thompson said the federal government should have denied a visa for the visit, while Mr. Romney touted his own actions when, as governor of Massachusetts, he refused to allow state resources to be used on an escort for then-Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, who had been invited by Harvard University to speak on the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

For the most part, there are few distinctions among the candidates on Iraq, the current dominant foreign-policy question, except for degrees of support. Mr. McCain has gone so far as saying he advocated President Bush’s surge strategy in Iraq from the start and has called it the “McCain surge.”

James Jay Carafano, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said this election is shaping up with foreign policy at the top of voters’ concerns. He said in that, it’s most like the 1960 election between Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Richard M. Nixon.

But he said all of the candidates have their hands tied somewhat when it comes to staking out a position, since those that come on too strong risk drawing lines that they may actually have to enforce, should they win the job.

“You’ve got to be careful about being blustery because somebody might actually challenge you on that,” he said, adding that the danger extends even to candidates who aren’t likely to be elected, because even their words have an effect on other nations. “Presidential campaigns are like E.F. Hutton — everybody listens.”

He said that’s a danger for both parties but particularly for Democrats who may want to try to stiffen their foreign policies on Iran in an attempt to win security-minded voters.

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