Ronald Reagan said today that American action to rescue the hostages was "long overdue" and suggested it may now be necessary to impose "a total quarantine" on Iran.
In a statement, Reagan blamed indecision by President Carter for the long captivity of the 53 Americans held hostage in Tehran.
"It is very difficult to understand why it took so many months to take any action at all," Reagan said.
"During the first few days, the president should have determined whether diplomatic steps would be sufficient to free our citizens," Reagan said. "When these steps failed, decisive action should have been taken promptly. Instead, Mr. Carter has announced a variety of moves he planned to make. But then he delayed, vacillated and frequently canceled these actions."
In a rally here beofre the news conference, Reagan made a similar point.
"I support the president in his attempt to rescue our people in Iran," Reagan said to applause. "As a matter of fact, I would have supported it six months ago."
Later, in Midland, Reagan endorsed a U.S. Senate investigation into why the rescue attempt failed. He also said he would not rule out another attempt to free the hostages by force.
"I wouldn't rule out anything that would have a possibility of rescuing those hostages," Reagan said. ". . . This is a national disgrace."
Reagan said the failure of the rescue attempt had "global ramifications" which go beyond the fate of the hostages. He said that the confidence of U.S. allies had been shaken by the "confused signals" which they had received from the Carter administration.
Reagan said he did not know whether the appointment of Sen. Edmund S. Muskie as secretary of state was a step toward restoring this shaken confidence.
"It came as a complete surprise to me," Reagan said. "All of us will hope he's most successful because we need success right now."
While Reagan said he would not make any tactical criticism of the failed rescue mission in Iran, his speech to the rally and his statements to reporters referred repeatedly to "deficiencies" in the U.S. weapons, equipment and ammunition.
He said the failure of the Carter administration to maintain the strength of the U.S. military establishment was partly responsible for the nation's present crisis but declined to say specifically that this had been a reason for the failure of the rescue attempt.
Reagan did not detail what the United States should now do to free the hostages. However, he implied that stronger measures are necessary.
"If it is a total quarantine, so be it," Reagan said.
Reagan arrived in Texas today on a private plane. The Free Enterprise II, after a three-day rest in California. His schedule has been sharply revamped to give him more time campaigning in Fort Worth and Houston, where George Bush is believed to be making inroads.
Ernie Angelo, Reagan's Texas campaign manager, said today that he thought Bush had a good chance of winning five or six of the state's 24 congressional districts and as many as a dozen of the 80 Texas delegates to the Republican National Convention.
This is double the estimate of Bush's strength that Angelo made a week ago.
Campaigning in Texas on Tuesday, Bush asked Reagan to denounce anti-Bush leaflets which link him to the Trilateral Commission and call this international group a "one world conspiracy."
Today, Reagan brushed aside this criticism.
"I have never seen any of the literature, he's talking about," Reagan said.
"The only person I've seen raise the Trilateral issue is George Bush and maybe he should tell us why he resigned." Reagan also was asked to comment on a statement a reporter attributed to Carter, which said the president would now campaign because the crisis which kept him in the White House are under control.
"I guess that's as good an excuse as any for getting out of the Rose Garden," Reagan said.