PARIS — Reza Pahlavi, whose father, the shah of Iran, was toppled from power 31 years ago, said Thursday the international community must step up its support for Iran’s opposition movement and stop focusing on the country’s nuclear program.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Pahlavi said nations such as the United States should not “even bother” with a new round of sanctions regarding Iran’s nuclear program, if punitive measures merely maintain the status quo.
Instead, he suggested the kind of encouragement that helped end South Africa’s apartheid system and influenced the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Pahlavi, 50, said that should include dialogue with Iran’s opposition, which has kept up periodic street protests in the country since the disputed June presidential elections despite a fierce crackdown.
He also said the opposition needs outside technological support to beat government eavesdropping and Internet crackdowns in Iran, and to “stay connected” with the outside world.
“The world is facing a regime today that is totalitarian, racist, fascist, and yet what has been done about it?” he said in Paris during a visit from the U.S., where he lives outside Washington D.C. “To this day no one has officially said … enough is enough,” he said.
As he spoke, Iran celebrated the birth of the Islamic Republic in 1979 and the overthrow of Pahlavi’s father, the late Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. The shah’s son said Western leaders must reach out to Iran’s opposition movement, but instead they have displayed “bashfulness,” “hesitancy” or even “passivity.” He criticized what he called President Barack Obama’s tepid outreach to the Iranian people and their exiled opposition.
He noted that 40 Nobel Prize winners appealed to Obama and other world leaders this week in a New York Times ad to let the Iranian people “know that we are on their side.”
“I never thought I would see the day when Joan Baez sings … in Farsi,” Pahlavi said, referring to the folk singer’s recent version of “We Shall Overcome” – sung partially in the Iranian language. “For God’s sake, it has become an international cry” going unheeded by world leaders.
Pahlavi recommended “tacit” dialogue with Iran’s opposition and diplomatic outreach to isolate the regime.
Iranian officials claim foreign powers are behind the country’s reform movement, but Pahlavi insisted that is not correct.
Western nations are pressing for a possible fourth set of U.N. sanctions on Iran for its failure to comply with U.N. resolutions aimed at guaranteeing it cannot produce nuclear weapons. Pahlavi said a window of opportunity may slip away while the world is “dilly-dallying” over sanctions, instead of focusing on issues such as human rights abuses in Iran.
“External sanctions against the regime do not suffice. You have to bring into your calculation … an element of pressure from within,” he said. “And the only way (to) do that is by strengthening the hand of the people inside the country.”
If sanctions are “going to be all you’re going to be doing while keeping the status quo, don’t even bother,” he said.
Pahlavi said he wants to see a peaceful transition, via civil disobedience, to a parliamentary democracy with a “clear separation of religion from government.”
He said he favors a referendum so Iranians can choose their form of government, and he predicted change could come “within a matter of months – if not maybe a couple of years tops” – if society is “empowered” and dialogue not limited to the regime.
“Nothing bars the world from having a line of dialogue with the opposition and that, strangely, has been absent,” he said. The level of support that Pahlavi or other exiled opposition movements have inside Iran today is unclear. Three decades after the Islamic Revolution, Iranian youth, the majority population, has never known the country as a monarchy.
Last month, authorities hanged two men convicted of belonging to outlawed monarchist groups and plotting to overthrow the Islamic regime.