Reza Pahlavi was just a teenager in 1979 when an Islamic revolution in Iran ousted his father, the shah. In the years since, Pahlavi, who now lives in Maryland, has been involved with activists both inside Iran and abroad who seek to overthrow the mullahs from power. As the Iranian government continued to stonewall on the nuclear issue-with the United States calling for sanctions despite Iran’s offer to “talk seriously”-NEWSWEEK’s Rachel Makabi spoke to Pahlavi, 46, to get his thoughts on the standoff, the effectiveness of U.S. policy toward Iran and his ongoing work with Iranian dissidents. Excerpts:
Makabi: What do you make of Iran’s latest nuclear proposal?
Pahlavi: The regime’s response to [U.N.] Security Council Resolution 1696 was predictable, as it was simply a variation of double talk-a tactic they have now mastered to an art form. What does the regime’s offer to “seriously talk” really mean? Will it seriously discuss its violations of human rights at home? Will it seriously discuss its patronage of regional militancy? I think not. [This] is a race against time. Will it get the bomb first, thereby bullying the world into appeasement, or will there be an actual convergence of domestic and international pressures [on the regime]?
[photo]What do you think will happen if China or Russia resists imposing sanctions?
Accepting the regime’s rejection of the Security Council’s demand for an immediate enrichment freeze will erode the prestige and moral authority of the United Nations, which for some time has been in need of rehabilitation. As permanent members, Russia and China bear important responsibility to not weaken the words, actions and authority of the Security Council.
Are you in favor of military intervention?
We need to steer away from the mind-set that either we have to diplomatically negotiate or talk about any kind of military intervention. Neither one can solve the situation. What’s obvious is to invest in the people of Iran themselves because you have the most natural ally among the Iranians.
You’ve long been active with dissidents. What does your involvement entail?
I have been in touch with a number of organizations and groups, within and outside Iran, who are working directly with activists on civil disobedience as well as the treatment of political prisoners. It is very critical that we keep dissidents operating inside.
Can moderate reformists like former president Mohammad Khatami change the system from within?
The idea of reform has been discredited and came to an ultimate dead end. It was unthinkable that this regime could ever reform itself. There is no process of change that could come from within.
So what role do you think the exile community can and should play?
In the short term, the exile community is a natural conduit [to express] what is the state of affairs in Iran to the international community. In the long term, the diaspora has tremendously dedicated and talented individuals who have been quite successful, and this [will be] a very important human aspect for our nation once we recover from this state of repression and liberate our country.
Do you think the regime is close to collapse?
It is completely at odds with what the people of Iran stand for. There is a generational battle taking place. There is a flight of capital from Iran; the people of Iran are clear as to the consequences. They look at it as a whole-our country is going down and all of our resources are being badly managed by corrupt officials. The people of Iran are committed to putting an end to it. This regime will not survive-I have no doubt about that, but it should be at the hands of the Iranian people and not foreign intervention. Right now, we need to help the people help themselves.
What would be the ideal government to replace the existing one?
We will have a constitutional assembly, and within that debate, the Iranian people will determine a final form of government. Our issue is to make sure we have a secular, democratic system.
What role would religion play?
What you see today is a clear example of what happens when religion is directly involved with the government. One should not confuse secularism with something that may sound like you are against religion. It is in everyone’s interest to have a clear line of separation.
What role do you see yourself playing?
My only focus today is to bring the country to the point where people can go to the polls and decide their fate and their future. That date, for me, is my finish line. The use I have is based on the Iranian people and whether or not they want me to play a more prominent role or not.