Pahlavi--Man Who Would Be King : Don’t Trust Khomeini, Shah’s Son Warns U.S.
“I commend the great Iranian people into the hands of the Crown Prince. . . . And this is my last wish.” --Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, 1980.
As the Bush Administration gingerly explores the chances of mending fences with the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s regime in Iran, the son of the former shah is trying to make sure it won’t happen.
“I certainly do hope that this Administration is definitely aware that even if the Khomeini regime is instrumental in the release of the hostages (held in Lebanon), one should not forget what this regime has done for the past 10 years, what it has stood for,” says Reza Pahlavi II, who has proclaimed himself the current Shah of Iran.
At 28, Pahlavi is a shah without a country, a would-be king with a shy smile and large ambitions who travels the world seeking somehow to galvanize a counterrevolution.
These days, his travels have brought him to California. He’ll be in Los Angeles on Saturday, which marks the 10th anniversary of the Islamic revolution that toppled his father from power. Southern California, he notes, has more than 450,000 Iranian exiles and is the largest such community in the United States.
Over the last few months, Pahlavi has stepped up the pace of his political activity. He was recently in Britain and France. He was scheduled to stop in West Germany, but its government banned him from entering the country.
At each of his stops, Pahlavi preaches the virtues of freedom and democracy for Iran. “I think people have a right to change their minds,” observes the heir to the Peacock Throne. “For a majority of my countrymen, all they have to do is compare their present situation with what they had.”
Monarchy Is One Option
If the Khomeini regime were to fall, monarchy would be “one of the options” for Iran, he says, suggesting that he would like to become a constitutional monarch, perhaps like King Juan Carlos I of Spain.
“We’re talking about the democratic system where the monarchy is not ruling but reigns,” he says. “He is a symbol for the country. He is above politics.”
That is, of course, a role far different from the one played by his autocratic father, whose regime tolerated no political opposition and ran one of the most feared secret police agencies in the world.
A decade ago, the younger Pahlavi was still a teen-ager, a crown prince who had been led since birth to believe that he would someday inherit a nation. He was undergoing military training with the U.S. Air Force near Lubbock, Tex., on Jan. 16, 1979, when, after months of turbulent demonstrations, his father was forced to flee the country. Khomeini returned to Iran on Feb. 1, and his fundamentalist regime took power 10 days later.
His father died in exile in Egypt in 1980. A few months later, Pahlavi, then 20 years old, declared himself shah.
These days, Pahlavi lives in northern Virginia. The small office from which he operates lies across the street from the main entrance of the CIA. It was that agency that helped to restore his father to power in a coup against nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953.
“I owe my throne to God, my people--and to you,” his father later told Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA official who organized the shah’s triumph over Mossadegh. (Roosevelt recounted the episode in his book, “Countercoup.”)
For the record, the younger Pahlavi says that he gets no direct support of any kind from the U.S. government, although he leaves open the possibility that such aid might come indirectly.
“There might be various political groups that have been active in the scene (of Iranian opposition politics) who have had their ties and contacts with various governments in the world, among them certainly the United States,” he explains.
A CIA spokesman refuses to say whether the agency is helping Pahlavi. “We would not confirm or deny an intelligence matter,” the spokesman says.
At the State Department, one expert on Iran says he believes that the framework of the Islamic revolution led by Khomeini “is pretty solidly implanted” in Iran and that the number of people supporting any sort of return to the monarchy is a “dwindling group.”
But the State Department official quickly adds, “Looking back, no one could have predicted the last 10 years in Iran, so I don’t know why we should be able to predict the next 10.”
Pahlavi seems to worry that the United States may try to reach some kind of accommodation with Khomeini’s fundamentalist regime.
“When you end up sending arms to Khomeini, when you end up practically condoning acts of terrorism . . . to rely on this as a policy of reconciliation I feel would be a grave mistake,” he says.
What Pahlavi wants from the United States, he insists, is not financial backing but moral support. “All we expect from the outside world is moral support for a cause that is worthy of defending, because we are talking about a violation of human rights in our country,” he says.
Pahlavi acknowledges that there also were complaints about human rights under his father’s rule. SAVAK, the Iranian intelligence and secret police agency set up under the shah, was found to have arrested, detained and tortured political opponents of the regime.
“I’m sure that my father had his sets of problems and mistakes that he made. I’m sure if he were to be alive, he definitely would admit to them. . . . I am not condoning any act of what happened. But to suggest that these things were state policy in the country before (1979), I think would be an exaggeration.”
Furthermore, Pahlavi argues, nothing that took place during his father’s reign can compare to the horrors of the past decade. According to Amnesty International, thousands of people have been executed in Iran since the 1979 revolution, some of them by firing squad or even stoning, and other Iranians have been punished with amputations, flogging or mutilation.
“It’s a return to the 17th Century,” says Pahlavi. “At the end of the 20th Century, we cannot deal with issues in the Dark Ages. You cannot have a period of Inquisition and at the same time cope with the rest of the world.”
Pahlavi’s attacks upon the Khomeini regime--delivered in the country Khomeini calls the “Great Satan"--do not go unnoticed overseas.
Last December, a few days after the bombing of Pan American Flight 103, a caller claiming to represent the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, a pro-Iranian group, called U.S. news agencies in London to threaten some unspecified action this year unless the United States deports Pahlavi.
Pahlavi points to such threats against him as evidence that he still plays a politically important role in Iran.
He insists that he keeps in close touch with events in Iran, so that “physical separation does not, in my case, mean isolation.”
Ironically, Pahlavi admits that he is now trying from a distance to do to Khomeini what Khomeini once did to his father: that is, to join together all the many different elements of Iranian society in opposition to the current regime. For this reason, he avoids being too specific about his vision of Iran’s future.
“Within 10 years, one learns a lot,” he observes. “People are tired of slogans. People are tired of ideological debates. . . . Everybody wants to be freed from this nightmare.”