The man who would be shah had brought his crusade--he calls it “my mission"--to Los Angeles, a city with an Iranian population of more than 300,000, the largest concentration in the United States, where 1 million Iranians now live.
But even as Reza Pahlavi II, heir to the Peacock Throne, was exhorting fellow expatriates to “go forth, hand-in-hand” to overthrow the Khomeini regime, hints of moderation were issuing from Tehran, and Great Britain joined France in restoring full diplomatic relations with Iran.
The 27-year-old son of the Shah Mohammed Pahlavi, the monarch who was driven out of his homeland in January 1979 and died in exile the next year, dismissed as “wishful thinking” suggestions that “so-called moderates” among those in power such as parliamentary speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani are reining in their radicalism.
In the Western vernacular that he favors, he said, “Don’t buy their stock. That market will collapse.”
Pahlavi assesses the overtures from Tehran, the hints that Iran no longer wants to live in political isolation, and concludes that it all is “nothing but a game. The game that these people are playing is: ‘No war, no peace.’ They can’t fight the war (with Iraq) anymore. People don’t want to fight anymore. They can’t have peace, either. They can’t afford to have peace . . . peace for them will mean transition of their power to the postwar constituency.”
So, he says, they are simply “shopping for insurance wherever they can get it,” engaged in a precarious balancing act in which they are trying to placate both radicals and moderates. “Don’t bet on it,” he repeats. “It is not a solid investment.”
No Official U.S. Ties
Washington officially considers the Iranian monarchy abolished but has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since April 1980, five months after 63 Americans were seized as hostages in a militant takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
On Friday, Secretary of State George P. Shultz said the United States is “prepared” to have “direct talks” with Iran but has no plans for them. He emphasized that the U.S. agenda would be an end to the Iran-Iraq war, release of Western hostages now held in Lebanon by pro-Iranian Lebanese Shia Muslims and a halt to terrorist activity.
Those around Pahlavi refer to this young Western-educated prince offhandedly as “the shah,” and, indeed, announcements for his Los Angeles speech, issued by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, billed him as the Shah of Iran.
In conversation, Pahlavi likes to be called “your majesty.” A prince without a monarchy, he is nevertheless a man well aware that he is not “just any other person.”
On Oct. 31, 1980, his 20th birthday, from exile in Cairo, he proclaimed himself “Reza Shah II,” king of Iran, after his grandfather, who had established the Pahlavi dynasty in 1925.
In an emotional speech, the young prince had called on Iranian patriots to join forces in ending the Khomeini “nightmare.” And he had assured them that “this nightmare, like others in our history, will pass.”
Today, eight years later, his message is the same.
Now he speaks of “orchestrating” a counter-revolution--he prefers to call it “a popular uprising"--and, while stopping far short of outlining the specifics, he emphasizes that he himself is prepared to put his life on the line in the cause, “a soldier at the service of my country.”
He asked an exuberant and affectionate audience at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council dinner at the Century Plaza Hotel--where about half of the 1,100 in attendance were Iranians--"If you believe in me as a leader, then help me . . . the time has come. It’s time to move.”
In an interview in the Royal Suite at the Century Plaza, Pahlavi spoke passionately of his cause, the restoration of “popular sovereignty” in Iran according to the dictates of a Democratic constitution adopted in 1906. The Iranian people must be free to choose their own future, he said, “regardless of what that future may be.”
Yes, he wants to see the monarchy restored, a monarchy in which he as king would be head of state rather than head of government--he cites Spain as a model for his kind of monarchy. But he insists that he is “ready to serve in any capacity,” that were he to return triumphantly as king he would insist that his people then vote him in.
It has been 10 years since the day in June, 1978, that he left Iran, the pampered prince who had soloed in an airplane at age 13, going off to Reese Air Force Base near Lubbock, Tex., for jet training. His voice emotionally flat, he recalls that day and the months that followed:
“We had just graduated from high school, and the same evening I had thrown a party with my classmates, to celebrate our graduation.”
The next morning, with two suitcases, he boarded a plane for England, where he was received by the royal family before continuing on to Texas. Seven months later, the beleaguered 59-year-old shah would flee his country, flying out at the controls of his personal Boeing 707, and the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini would come to power; young Pahlavi was not to go home again.
A man without a country, denied permanent sanctuary in the United States, the shah, terminally ill with cancer, shuttled with Empress Farah Diba from country to country--Morocco, Mexico, Panama, the Bahamas--before being granted asylum in Egypt, where young Pahlavi stayed and was with him for the last four months of his life.
Being a shah without a kingdom is a difficult role. Sometimes, Pahlavi acknowledges, as he contemplates his responsibilities as the oldest child and heir to the throne, he might fleetingly have “some thoughts of, you know, ‘Why me?’ ” He might permit himself to ponder briefly the life of a “normal person.”
But, he says, he is far too busy to dwell on such things.
Until 1982, he continued to live in Egypt, then in Morocco until moving to the United States in 1984. Today home is a well-guarded estate in Virginia, close to the District of Columbia, where he lives with his 19-year-old wife, Yasmine, daughter of an Iranian businessman.
Pahlavi now oversees a clandestine network that he says has operatives in and out of Iran, communicating by telephone and through sophisticated electronics, ready to seize power at the propitious moment.
He apparently does not have to worry about drumming up an income. How much money his family was able to get out of Iran is a matter of speculation, but Iran’s new government said in 1979 that the royals transferred $15 billion abroad before leaving. The Pahlavis’ extensive holdings include real estate in California.
In the last few years, Pahlavi has become quite visible; late in 1986, Tehran residents were surprised to find their regular programming interrupted by an illegal television broadcast in which Reza Pahlavi asked the Iranian people to overthrow the Khomeini regime. Afterwards, small groups of Pahlavi supporters demonstrated in the streets until being fired on by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
By choosing to live near Washington, he acknowledges, he leaves himself open to recurring charges that he is a tool of the CIA. But, he points out, his presence would create problems, economic and diplomatic, for European countries where he might like to establish headquarters. He smiles and says, “I can’t just telephone and say, ‘OK, I’m coming.’ ”
Wherever he goes, security is a primary consideration. Guests at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council dinner passed through metal detectors on their way in and out of the ballroom. Pahlavi says that he worries about his safety but that “I don’t let it preoccupy me. This comes with the job, so to speak. It is not a hazard-free job. When you know that you are the No. 1 target of the No. 1 terrorists in the world, that doesn’t make you really be very comfortable.
“Just as I’m vulnerable to a cold, I’m vulnerable to an assassin’s bullet. So, you’re not going to sit in your home and worry about catching a cold and not go out at all.
“I’m just as prepared to lose my life in this process as anybody else. But I’m not a philanderer. I won’t let myself be an easy target.”
His mother, as well as his three younger siblings, who are university students, now live in the United States. Pahlavi, who began his college education at Williams College in Massachusetts in 1979, has a degree in political science from USC, “by correspondence,” as he puts it. (In 1975, USC, whose long relationship with Iran resulted over the years in millions of dollars in grants, had quietly awarded an honorary degree to his father, the shah.)
Pahlavi leads what he calls a “very restrained” life, available around the clock to advisers who keep him in touch with “elements inside.” There are trips and speeches and meetings with important people here and abroad; there is little time to indulge his hobbies, flying and photography.
Sometimes he invites friends to his house to watch videos or television or to play backgammon, and there is an occasional game of tennis. It would simply not be “appropriate,” he explains, for him to have a night life or go to “leisure places.”
The Iran from which the shah had fled was a nation torn by political anarchy, and his son’s perception of history will be seen by some as revisionist.
A noble act is implied when he explains his father’s decision to leave Iran: “You could not have your hand stained with the blood of your own people. It was unthinkable. Who could possibly turn arms against his own people?”
While he speaks of his father with affection, he acknowledges mistakes made. Asked to comment on descriptions in William Shawcross’ new book, “The Shah’s Last Ride,” of a court “seething with corruption and fear” and a regime marked by “decadent excesses,” he replies, “I think it never hurts to have constructive criticism.”
“As far as talking about human rights violations and actual brutality,” he says, consider the likes of Mohammed Ali Hamadi, a pro-Iranian Shia Muslim Lebanese on trial now in West Germany, charged with air piracy and murder in the 1985 hijacking of a TWA jetliner in Beirut in which an American sailor was killed. “Well,” he says, “there were hundreds of Hamadis in the jails (of Iran) in the past. They let them loose. They take hostages, they blow up embassies, they commit acts of terrorism here and there. That’s precisely why they belonged in those jails. Anybody unhappy about the fact that those kind of people were put in jails should be picketing the Hamadi trial right now in Germany.”
‘I’m not saying the justice system was perfect. There was corruption.’
He adds: “Of course I’m not saying that the justice system in (Iran) was perfect. There was corruption, I can’t deny that. Yes, there were a lot of mistakes made, be it in terms of violence, be it in terms of corruption, be it in terms of opulence, whatever. We were not perfect. But to say that all of these were an instrument of our state policy would be ridiculous. . . . In the past 10 years, the Islamic Republic has not managed to come up with even 10 names of people who might have disappeared under the system. One has to put things into perspective. . . .”
His father was brought down, Pahlavi believes, by “a group of very astute and capable salesmen” who promised the Iranians the world. He asks: “I mean, who wouldn’t give it a try? So people went out and bought this new product, took it home, tasted it, tried it out. They didn’t like it. But when it came time to go and get their refund, they said, ‘Uh-uh, too late.’ And they were stuck with it.”
Through the 1960s, the shah, a friend of the United States, was praised for his efforts to initiate land reform and to combat illiteracy and for elevating the status of women, traditionally second-class citizens without rights.
But in his later years as King of Kings and Light of the Aryans, his critics portrayed him as an arrogant autocrat whose feared secret police, the Savak, were trained to swiftly dispatch all political enemies.
One of the world’s richest men, the shah was widely criticized by the world press when, in 1972, he hosted a grandiose party celebrating the Persian Empire’s birth at Persepolis and glorifying the Pahlavi dynasty. VIP guests were dazzled by a multimillion-dollar tent city erected for the occasion, close by the squalid living quarters of the Iranian peasants.
In the oil-boom ‘70s, the shah’s push for industrialization overtaxed the economy and lined the pockets of a few, including middlemen wheeling and dealing in government contracts. Analysts at the time attributed his downfall both to his repressive rule and to his misuse of his country’s huge oil revenues. The latter, they said, cost him the support of the merchant class and inflation-beset low-income urban workers.
Pahlavi paints a different picture of the Iran where his father occupied the throne for 38 years, cementing his power in 1953, when, with CIA backing, he was able to oust Premier Mohammed Mossadegh. That picture is of a nation of relative prosperity, social justice and progress, at peace with Iraq and its other neighbors and respected by the rest of the world.
And then he speaks of Iran today, oil-wealthy but drained of its best intellects (scattered around the world, they are, he says, “the key” to the success of his campaign), a nation of people beset by unemployment and inflation, living in “untold misery” under a “brutal” regime in a state of “national humiliation” and “international disgrace.”
He speaks of a per capita income, once $2,800, slashed by two-thirds and he speaks of the “destruction” of a nation’s pride. “We have come across to the world as a bunch of barbaric people. The President (Reagan) himself called Iran a barbaric state. For God’s sakes, let’s make the difference between Khomeini and his gang and the Iranian people. These people are not crazies. They are not loonies. They are people just like you.
“They are people who would rather have their children go to school, be educated, be productive elements of society. They are not people who enjoy receiving the remains of their children (killed in fighting with Iraq) bundled in plastic with a congratulatory message from the committee. These are not people who want to be known in the world as a bunch of savage people.”
The cause totally absorbs this slender, 6-foot-tall prince, who with his large brown eyes and prominent nose bears some resemblance to his father. He is gracious, polite, a man who seems to have the best of those intangible assets that accrue to those born to privilege. His English is all but flawless; his wit is quick.
Others may see his mission as an exercise in futility; others may say that a monarchy overthrown by revolution will never be restored. But Pahlavi insists that the “overwhelming majority” of his 50 million countrymen in Iran support him. In his Los Angeles speech, he emphasized that he and his supporters are not “just a few ancien regime- ists in exile . . . a few intellectuals who live in a state of permanent trance.” In conversation, he talks of a “spirit of resistance” growing inside Iran that embraces “all strata of society.” It is no longer a matter of whether there will be an uprising, he says, only a matter of “when and how.”
Why, then, has there been no counter-revolution? “For the past eight years,” he says, “one should not have expected with a war going on that the Iranians would be more worried about how to fight a domestic government, as opposed to facing Iraqi tanks and Iraqi soldiers. But now that the war is over (a cease-fire has been in effect since August) people have time to concentrate on their domestic problems.”
This, he likes to say, is the “turning point, a window of opportunity.” For Khomeini’s Islamic Republic, Pahlavi is telling his supporters publicly, “This is the beginning of the end.”
Somewhat less eloquently, in an interview, he says it is time to “take these guys on.” His sources, Pahlavi says, tell him that Khomeini, 88 and in ill health, is not expected to live long. But, he adds, “I don’t think him being dead or alive will really make much of a difference. We already have the post-Khomeini era as far as I’m concerned, in terms of the people who are currently in power.”
Nevertheless, the Ayatollah, a Muslim clergyman, remains to Westerners the symbol of a society bent on spreading its violent fundamentalism abroad and imposing archaic values within.
Pahlavi, a practicing Muslim, is quick to say that Khomeini does not speak for the majority of the clergy in Iran, that his fanaticism and his teachings are not what Islam is about, that true religion is not something imposed on people. He perceives the Shiites not as dedicated martyrs but as people being “brainwashed” and exploited.
He asks: “You recall that crazy priest in Guyana, what was his name, Jim Jones? Do you think every religious person would be like him? You always have some lunatics. I watch the TV here. I’m aware of things about certain clergymen. But I refuse to believe that every religious person is a fanatic.”
And he repeats his commitment to the cause, for “as long as it takes, as long as it is possible for me to continue.” He laughs and says, “Thank God I’m young.”
“With our help,” he says, "(The Khomeini) regime is going to eat itself from the inside,” devoured by disillusionment. His job is “orchestration,” with the goal a victory achieved while “saving as many lives as possible” and avoiding a long civil war.
Will his “popular uprising” be violent? “I hope not,” Pahlavi says, “but if it is necessary for us to take arms against them, so be it. They play a rough game, we play a rough game. . . .”