Shah of Iran's Heir Plans Overthrow of Regime
Reza Pahlavi, son of the late Shah of Iran, told the editors of HUMAN EVENTS last week that in the next two to three months he hopes to finalize the organization of a movement aimed at overthrowing the Islamic regime in Tehran and replacing it with a democratic government.
He believes the cause is urgent because of the prospect that Iran may soon develop a nuclear weapon or the U.S. may use military force to preempt that. He hopes to offer a way out of this dilemma: a revolution sparked by massive civil disobedience in which the masses in the streets are backed by elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Pahlavi, who lives in exile in the United States, said he has been in contact with elements of the Revolutionary Guard that would be willing to play such a role, and activists who could help spark the civil disobedience.
He also said that the U.S. and other governments can help by imposing “smart sanctions” on the leaders of Iranian regime, but he categorically opposes U.S. military intervention.
After the revolution he envisions, Pahlavi said, he would be willing to become a constitutional monarch in Iran if an Iranian constitutional convention offered him that role. “I’m ready to serve in that capacity,” he said. “If the people so choose, it would be my greatest honor.”
The following are excerpts from the interview with the editors of HUMAN EVENTS in which Pahlavi explained why and how he thinks his country can be transformed from an Islamist dictatorship into a free democracy. READ MORE
Under any circumstances, would you support U.S. military action against Iran?
As a matter of principle there’s no way that I can support any kind of military intervention regardless of the crisis because as a matter of principle, and as a nationalist, I cannot even imagine the fact that my country could be attacked, and today it’s a very different scenario from, let’s say, the Second World War where you are occupied by Nazi forces and there’s a liberating force coming in. This is a strike against Iranian installations that are part of our national assets. That it’s used wrongly by the wrong people is beside the point. So there’s no justification as far as I’m concerned.
Even if we had absolutely certain knowledge the regime in Iran was on the threshold of actually building a nuclear weapon, you would oppose U.S. military intervention to stop that from happening?
First of all, whether the U.S. does it or not is its affair. I would still be critical of it only because I think that if we come back to a position in which we are today, there’s time to remedy the situation and I will get to other options later. But I can tell you one thing: The best gift that you can give the current regime is, in fact, to attack it. Why? Because, one, it will immediately consolidate the nation, two, it will neutralize all elements of the military and paramilitary forces who have a role to play in the options that I will present later and they will be forced into a position of defense. So they are out of the equation.
Three, it will stir this entire regional emotion, once again, against the West, while we are trying to get help from the very same West to promote a democratic ideal.
Fourth, if it’s a race against time, as in the sense, “Will this regime become nuclear first or will the Iranian people achieve democracy?” there’s no way you’re going to win the race by doing so. You may prolong the inevitable armament of Iran, but you will certainly push back the democratic cause for many years, if not for good.
And, ultimately, I don’t know if it’s going to be effective. We’re not talking about Iraq. We’re talking about a country with a multitude of installations, some of which you happen to know about and many of which we still don’t know about. Many of these entities are hidden under civilian areas, the actual stockpiling.
You would be willing to renounce that idea that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon?
I’m against developing any weapons of mass destruction. I work to see the world develop a process of disarmament because otherwise it will be madness. If we build it, tomorrow the Turks will build it, then the Saudis want to build it, then the Egyptians want to build it. Believe me, in that part of the world, there’s some track record how stable the world will feel having a whole bunch of nuclear warheads in the hands of all these people. Forget it. I’d be the first one proposing a plan to reverse the cycle of proliferation.
You don’t believe Iran needs a nuclear weapon to balance Israel’s nuclear weapon?
You would not demand that Israel disarm?
Since when has Israel been a threat to anyone? Israel just wants to be left alone and live in peace side by side with its neighbors. As far as I’m concerned, Israel never had any ambition to territorially go and invade, I don’t know, Spain or Morocco or anywhere else. And let me tell something else about Iran: Unlike the rest of the Islamic or Arab world, the relationship between Persia and the Jews goes back to the days of Cyrus the Great. We take pride as Iranians of having a history where Cyrus was the most quoted figure in the Torah, as a liberator of Jewish slaves, who went to Babylon and gave them true freedom for them to worship and in fact helped them build a temple. We have a biblical relation with Jews, and we have no problem with modern day Israel. As far as regional politics, I believe, I think many Iranians believe so, that as much as Israel has a right to exist, so should the Palestinians. They have to work the problem between each other. And we have no business interfering, and we need to help get as much stability in the region.
A democratic regime in Iran would be doing that, but a clerical regime in Tehran that sends money to Hamas and to Hizballah and to all the terrorists around the globe obviously is not promoting stability and peace, it is doing the reverse.
In your argument for why you could not see supporting, under any circumstances, the United States’ using military action against Iran, you said this would turn the Iranian people against Americans.
Yes, they’re your best natural allies. What they see, rather than helping us—because we are your best weapon against this regime. Why do you want to bypass us? And you’re attacking our resources.
Last year, Iran elected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a viciously anti-American president. He’s threatening the destruction of Israel. He’s threatening the United States. Why is it that the same country that can elect this guy has a pro-American population?
Because that’s what the Iranian people are like. Iran is the only country that has the most pro-Western people with the most anti-Western government—unlike the rest of the countries in the region.
Why did that develop? In 2000 you had the reformer, President Khatami, everyone said the parliament is for reform. Then suddenly, five years later, you have someone else elected by an overwhelming margin who is supposedly anti-West. And, of course, he defeated Rafsanjani.
Again, you see the tree but you don’t see the forest.
The whole regime, in its entirety, is hostile and antagonistic to what we understand in the free world as being our definition of human rights and individual freedoms. This regime is dedicated to implement a viewpoint which is the most extreme interpretation of religion and God’s law on Earth, anywhere around the globe, starting with itself, the region and beyond. If tomorrow they can do it in Washington, they will do it. Or anywhere else. They don’t see eye to eye with you. This is a regime that is dedicated to that.
But you’re not explaining the change from 2000, when they had reformers in there, and people thought they had a chance—
Reformers to reform what? To sustain the regime or to change it? The reformers were not committed to end the regime. They were committed to preserving it. And so was Khatami. Don’t get me wrong. That’s part of the typical mistake the West has been making, including the U.S. government.
It still would have been a more moderate regime than the present one.
Come on, who are we kidding? You said the same thing about Andropov. You said he drinks whiskey and listens to jazz, therefore he’s more moderate. He was Communist for God’s sake.
How would you change it now?
The reason the regime was using Khatami as the smiling face talking about a dialogue of civilizations was just to buy time. The same way that in the nuclear race they played the game of buying time by saying we’re going to negotiate with Russians or we’re not going to talk to them—buying time. Three years of endless negotiations has produced nothing. Why? The regime gained an extra three years. All I’m saying is that now, when you look at the future, we have a delicate time frame within which we can bring about change.
I cannot give you an expert, scientific opinion about how close Iran is to actual fissile material. . .
Newt Ginrich told us in our interview with him that we had two to three years to change the regime in Iran, or else he wanted to go to war.
That I think is realistic. Plus or minus six months or so.
Gingrich says if we can’t get the regime changed in two to three years we have to invade Iran. What’s your answer to that?
My answer is that I think that while the analysis that the options are running out as time goes by is true, the most important option that has been the least talked about has yet to be even considered, let alone tried.
Which is, where I’m coming from. What I’m coming from is that, short of military strikes, which I don’t think is going to help at all with the ultimate solution, the much better way is to find the best way of enforcing the hand of the people of Iran. I need to explain that because it’s a complex issue.
Assume you’re directly advising Condoleezza Rice and George Bush. Bush is going to be in office for two more years. How can they help you and your people get rid of this regime in the next two years?
We have to find a combination of internal elements working with exterior elements within the Iranian opposition and a coordination of such a movement with a number of key countries who in concert will act on this plan to make it happen.
You want to see a systematically organized general strike, people going into the streets against the government in Tehran?
Well look, civil disobedience, we can find examples of it from Argentina to India.
That’s what you want. That’s your tool.
That’s one of the tools. The other thing is the military and paramilitary power. Understand one thing: The basic powerbase of this regime is the Revolutionary Guards, at the end of the day.
They report to [Ayatollah] Khamenei, not to Ahmadinejad?
It’s a mixed bag. Ultimately, Khamenei is the supreme leader. But let’s face it, Khamenei doesn’t have single-handed control. In fact, Khamenei went all the way to take the risk of alienating some of the Revolutionary Guards by publicly referring to the talks between [U.S. Ambassador to Iraq] Zalmay Khalilzad and Iranians over the Iraqi issue. What was he trying to do there? He was much more concerned about the rising disenchantment inside Iran. He wanted to just pour ice water on their head, by saying, “Oh, we’re talking to the Americans”—at the risk of alienating his own militia.
That explains the psychology of the regime. It also explains that the whole militia is not under one core unit. It’s a whole mafia. There are various families of Revolutionary Guards. Each has its own portfolio and agenda. Some are behind Al Qaeda. Some are involved in Syria. Some are involved in Bekaa Valley. Some are involved in Iraq, etc. And they have their own independent means of finances. They don’t have to report back to the government. They have their own bases of income, free ports, what have you.
You think you can exploit this to turn some elements of the Revolutionary Guards against the regime?
Yes, for a number of reasons. Because like in any totalitarian system, they know that at the end they’ll fall. The question is, how do they negotiate their exit strategy? No. 2 is because a lot of their families are not as wealthy as we think. There are some preferred ones, but many are still having to make ends meet. We have ranked officers who have to drive taxicabs at three o’clock in the morning, as a major or colonel returning from base, because they don’t have enough money to pay the rent. The disenchantment is there.
So what you see happening is a general strike, people going into the streets, refusing to work, calling for the overthrow of the regime, and then their being backed—
And then being sustained by significant elements of the Revolutionary Guards who say, “You’re gone”?
And I’m talking about a blitzkrieg of media supporting, like the BBC did before the revolution, which was practically announcing the night before where there would be a demonstration the next day. This is not myth, it is fact.
Are you in contact with some of the commanders of these [elements]?
Absolutely. Absolutely. And in fact, they keep on saying that we are being under-utilized, we have a role to play, we know the time for it, but we cannot just take the initiative. They are in No Man’s Land. You have to understand.
Are you the person who puts together the master plan? Are you the commander-in-chief of this counteraction?
Look, I think I can be effective, and the reason I have stayed behind until now was because I wanted to exhaust every avenue of possibility so that the opposition can gather itself and collectively work on a common agenda.
Within the next two or three months, we’ll know if the result of two or three years of intense effort is going to pay off.
Two or three months?
Two or three months. This summer.
Are you going to have a unity council of sorts?
Yes, the goal was to have some kind of congress, or, we call it a forum, where all these [exiled Iranian opposition] groups, albeit under their own umbrellas and structure, could agree on a common agenda of action under common points that we all agree, and act like that. That’s the best we can hope to make something out of the fabric of the known opposition. But what I have told them, and what I am telling them right now, as much as there’s a deadline on anything, there should be a deadline for that, too. And I’ve exhausted every avenue to act as a catalyst to bring as many people together so they can work together. But if, for any reason, this strategy does not work, then I would be ready to step in and take any initiative that is necessary. But I would do that only if the other option does not work.
Specifically, what you’d like to do, if you can get this umbrella of these outside groups together, is use their collective ability to communicate back with all these atomized groups inside Iran to call for things like a general strike.
Then orchestrate a massive campaign of resistance and civil disobedience to bring as much pressure within domestically. Meanwhile, the international community can play a much bigger role as well in pressuring the regime even further. That’s where I get to the smart sanction part. For instance, why penalize the people that are already bleeding and hungry? Why don’t you, for instance, in terms of the UN sanctions, demand a complete obstruction of travel for Iranian officials? Or denying them visas or from entering other countries, things of that nature? Why don’t you talk to all these countries that have intelligence and data on all those dummy corporations and bank accounts that the regime has in different countries and freeze those accounts?
You basically send a very strong message to the regime, you penalize their officials, you don’t necessarily declare war on Iran or economically put more pressure.
Then it’s also a challenge to Russia and China. You know Russia and China might be able to legitimately argue why they would veto any Security Council resolutions on sanctions. China, obviously, because it’s dependent on Iranian oil, and Russia because I think Putin and Peter the Great are not that far apart, in terms of their being the big boys in the region. But they will be hard pressed to object to any smart sanction, because failure to do so basically means they are in cahoots with the Islamic regime. I don’t know if they want to take that public position in the court of public opinion.
While you’re doing this, how concerned are you about your own security here in the United States?
Look it’s beyond concern. I put faith in the Almighty and I said whatever it takes. You know, what can you do? You cannot live in a shell.
In your Iran, Mahmoud Abdullah, the Afghan who converted to Christianity, would have every right to do that and the state would protect him from retaliation by radical clerics?
God, I hope so. I hope so. Because if we are basing our constitution on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that’s one of the most fundamental rights that any human being should have. I’m sick and tired of hypocrisy and all this dubious attitude that is so typical of our region. If you believe in something you say it, you don’t fool around. I mean, that’s where I’m coming from. I haven’t lived 45 years of my life to fool around with these things. If I’m willing to lose my life for it, hell I’m going to fight for these rights, otherwise it’s not worth it. Frankly it’s not worth it! I might as well forget about Iran and become a citizen and live my life in this country. No. I want to have the same rights you have over here over there. That’s what I’m fighting for! Otherwise why bother?
Do you think the Iranian population as a whole agrees with you today or do you feel you have to convert them to your point of view?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to find out that the minute you criticize any aspect of this regime you are going to be at the very least incarcerated, possibly tortured, and at the very worst, executed. Last week, there were six bodies of women found in South of Tehran, because of the new edict by Ahmadinejad—and I’m not saying “edict” as a cleric because he’s not, but the new law—to further strengthen the strict code of how you dress! People can be fined if they happen to have a dog on a leash because dogs are supposed to be bad in Islam. You cannot even walk your dog on the street and not be fined. Imagine if you were to criticize the regime! Don’t you think people get that? They do.
Would you rather participate in a democratic parliamentary election like Iraq or simply come back as a constitutional monarch?
I appreciate the question. I know what my function is today, and my function today is to be a catalyst that promotes unity as opposed to being an element that brings polarity. My role today is not institutional, it’s political. My role today is not someone who will be a symbolic leader under that institution, but a national leader that is fighting for freedom. ... My job today is to be a liberator, as opposed to representing an institution. However, as an option, certainly the Iranian people should consider that beyond the content of the future, which I described to you—secular, democratic, based on human rights—what should the ultimate form be? Do we want to have a parliamentary monarchy like we do Sweden, or Japan, or Holland, or Belgium? Or do we want to have a republican system like you have in this United States or France or elsewhere? That debate is not today’s debate. That is the debate that will be the responsibility of the next constitutional assembly that will have to bring in a new constitution and draft a new one.
At that time, there probably will be a lot of debates between those who are advocates of a monarchic system and those who are advocates of a republican system.
But you don’t rule it out?
I think it is, in my personal opinion, I think that that institution will better serve the purpose of the institutionalization of the democracy in Iran rather than the republican form. I can, case in point, use the example, of a post-Franco [Spain] with King Juan Carlos.
You’re not renouncing the throne, in other words? You’ll take it, if—
Look, it’s not a matter what I choose to do. I think that if monarchy has to be decided it should be based on people wanting it, not me arguing it. I have faith that this is an appropriate institution. It’s not a coincidence it survived more than 25 centuries. It is very much imbedded in Iranian culture and tradition and identity. In modern days, it can play just as effective a role. And I think that one of the things that I often find, thinking of the way Americans look at monarchy, which is immediately George III in your mind, is that you should at least liberate yourself from that aspect and see that the name “republic” doesn’t mean anything. Most of your enemies are republics. Saddam Hussein is one. Syria is one. “Republic” doesn’t automatically mean democratic. The Soviet Union was a republic. Most of your allies in Europe and NATO, half of them were monarchies. ... I think it’s not the form of the regime, it’s the content that matters. I think a monarchy is just as compatible to be committed to be democratic as a republic is. In some countries, a monarchy works better than a republic. Usually, history has shown us, in countries that are heterogeneous, in other words that have a lot of different groups, ethnicities and religion, the gelling factor, the unifying factor, has been the institutional mind, with the difference that this institution has to remain above the fray and not be engaged in the politics. That’s the big difference. Because the only time it can maintain neutrality and be for all is by not being engaged. Because the minute you become political then you have to take sides and that defeats the purpose, which is pretty much the problem we had under the previous regime, because the person of the king was directly involved in making policy, which is the last thing you want to do.
Having said that, yes, I’m fully committed to that. I’m ready to serve in that capacity. If the people so choose, it would be my greatest honor. But at the end of the day, what I tell them is, first and foremost, I’m an Iranian and I’d be just as happy to serve my country in whatever capacity. But if you give me that choice, that opportunity, I think I could do a good job for you.