THE HAGUE – He inherited his father’s upright posture, facial features and understated smile, but Persian Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi is no modern version of a Persian Shah.
The differences between the late Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and his son reveal themselves early on in the interview, which Reza Pahlavi gave The Jerusalem Post last week during a visit to the Netherlands.
Reza Pahlavi came to persuade the International Criminal Court to charge Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, with crimes against humanity. Disappointed in US President Barack Obama’s policy on Iran (Obama “chickened out” of supporting prodemocracy forces there, Reza Pahlavi says), he is starting a new Iranian opposition movement from exile to topple the mullah regime.
Whereas the late Shah, who reigned as Iran’s last monarch until his ousting in 1979, was famous for his icy stateliness, his oldest son Reza Pahlavi is chummy and outgoing. While the father unabashedly proclaimed his right to absolute power, the son will not even say whether he envisions a political role for himself, if he ever returns.
“There were many elements that went wrong,” says Reza Pahlavi when speaking of his father’s legacy.
He was 17 when the Pahlavi family fled Iran during the Islamic Revolution that brought the current ayatollah regime to power.
“There was excess by some members of the Iranian SAVAK [secret police], there was a lot of repression, there were unnecessary acts such as torture that I never condone and in fact condemn,” says Reza Pahlavi.
Yet, the Shah’s actions need to be seen in the context of the time, he says. Moscow was actively trying to take over through agitation and the ayatollahs were preparing to take power.
“Things were not perfect, but most Iranians recognize now that at least we were moving forward, and Iran’s international status reflected this.”
His father, a progressive, pro-Western tyrant, had become loathed by many of his subjects, as they called for democratic reform for years before the revolution.
Reza Pahlavi says that he is not seeking a return to the throne: “It is up to the Iranian people to say what role I should play.”
If he ever returns, it will not be thanks to the actions of any American president, Reza Pahlavi says during the interview at his hotel. He is traveling under the watchful eye of several bodyguards who stay with him at all times. Fearing assassins paid by Tehran, Reza Pahalvi’s freedom of movement is severely limited.
Reza Pahlavi lives in Washington, where he enjoys some access to decision-makers.
The White House, however, has “a systemic failure in understanding the lay of the land” when it comes to Iran. The current president is no exception, according to Reza Pahlavi.
“Barack Obama is hell-bent on engaging the Iranian regime just to prove that he’s not George Bush. That doesn’t help the problem. That’s not what people expected in Iran,” the Iranian prince said.
“The people of Iran are asking for help, and Obama cares about showing Khamenei that he can reason with him. That was Jimmy Carter’s mentality in 1979 and that’s still the mentality in 2012.”
Reza Pahlavi called on “Israeli friends to stand up in support of those trying to bring democracy to Iran.”
He added: “Of course Iranians don’t hate Israel. The regime wants you to think so.
Our nations share a biblical relationship since the times of Cyrus, who helped the Jewish people in their hour of need. This is our hour of need. We’re asking Israel’s help to free us from our tyrannical regime. Are you going to help us, or are you going to bomb us?” Meanwhile, Reza Pahlavi is trying to bring pressure on Iran’s leadership by presenting a 43-page dossier on alleged crimes against humanity attributable to Khamenei at the International Criminal Court.
The dossier surveys political repression, persecution of gays and systemic rape and torture of dissidents since 2002 and during the 2009 uprising in Iran.
In order to charge Khamenei, the United Nations Security Council would have to refer the case to the ICC. Reza Pahlavi said he would lobby for this outcome.
The Iranian regime is “an ideological, racist tyranny. It’s a combination of Hitler, the Soviets and apartheid which treats minorities and even women in a fascist manner. Yet the world seems to do nothing about it. This is odd to me,” Reza Pahlavi says.
Though Reza Pahlavi is adamant about the need to topple the government, he is opposed to a military strike at this point.
“In the spectrum between negotiations, sanctions and attack, there is another option that is being ignored, and that is to help the Iranian people in its quest for freedom.”
Israel should do more to engage the Iranian people, which, according to Reza Pahlavi, opposes the ayatollah regime. He explains that “a military strike would only delay Iran’s efforts to become a nuclear power, and we would still have the same regime in place. In order to fundamentally resolve the issue, we need to support the forces within Iran that want to topple the regime.” Those forces, he says, are not the Reformist leaders of the so-called Green Revolution, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
“The international community invested much effort and hope in the Reformists, but they’re pre-screened, pre-approved loyal opposition.
More and more of their supporters are realizing it’s futile to promote change from within because Iran’s paramilitary mafia still occupy the top of the pyramid.
Khamenei controls every apparatus of state: legislature, politics, information and military.”
The objective of filing the complaint with the ICC is threefold, Reza Pahlavi explains: to serve justice, signal to the Iranian people that they are not alone and “signal to those who belong to the Iranian mechanism of oppression that it’s the rulers who will be held accountable. Not the rank and file.”
Reza Pahlavi envisions a version of South Africa’s truth and reconciliation model for Iran, where most former members of the establishment receive amnesty if they confess.
“Those who belong to the establishment need to know that no harm would come to them if they walk away. Otherwise, we end up with a Syria-like reality where those in power hold on for dear life.”
During his visit, Reza Pahlavi met with Professor Afshin Ellian, an Iranian-born philosopher of law and expert in international law from Leiden University. Ellian, a columnist and critic of the Iranian regime, describes Reza Pahlavi as a “nonpartisan person, able to unite behind him a broad spectrum of society, ranging from moderate Muslims to the pro-Western intelligentsia.
“In Iran, there are two names known to virtually all, even in the most remote villages.
The first name is Khamenei and the second one is Reza Pahlavi.”
The latter, Ellian says, “is the only opposition figure which is still able to operate in any effective manner and speak for the Iranian people. No other opposition figure is as well-known and nonpartisan.”