Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Help Iranian People Change Government, Shah's Son Urges

TORONTO -- The son of the deposed Shah of Iran warned that Western diplomacy or military intervention will not ease the tensions in Iran, and said there is a small window of time to empower the country's citizens to rise up against the government.

In Toronto yesterday to speak at a conference sponsored by the non-profit Iran Future Association, Reza Pahlavi said in an interview with The Globe and Mail the West needs to provide the Iranian people, whom he describes as "hostages" under the current regime, with moral support, communications assistance and a bit of financial help.

"You have to understand that with this regime, when they hear about human rights, when they hear about democracy, when they hear about women's rights, everything like that to them is like cyanide," he said.

"In my opinion, the only thing that will force the regime to change its behaviour is not any carrot you're dangling from the outside or any threat to strike them with weapons to neutralize their military capabilities. The biggest fear over which [the leaders] lose sleep overnight is the fear that one day the people on the street will rise against them."

Mr. Pahlavi has not returned to Iran since his father, the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was toppled in the 1979 Iranian revolution. The son currently lives in Maryland.

Sometimes referred to as the former Prince, Mr. Pahlavi has used his high-profile status abroad to campaign for human rights and democracy in Iran. He spoke last night at a weekend conference that has brought together Iranian scholars to analyze solutions for the country's future, whether in health care or in the oil industry.

Mr. Pahlavi's comments came as Iran's Revolutionary Guards this week test-fired missiles, including one that it says could reach Israel. The tests have raised fears and provoked international condemnation. Bush administration officials say they have not ruled out military options if diplomacy fails, and Israel has sworn to prevent Iran from emerging as a nuclear-armed power.

Mr. Pahlavi said the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is playing a delay game, using the time to develop bombs. He said the outside world should use this period to support the Iranian people in becoming proactive.

"There's a short window of time before it really gets ugly," he said in the interview at a Toronto hotel. "It would be historically criminal, criminal for the future of our planet if the world community doesn't give this process a chance, because by then it would too late."

In recent years, he said, Iran has become synonymous with "terrorism" and "aggression" because of the current regime. He is an advocate of non-violent civil disobedience and has lobbied politicians to help lead a movement for change.

"The Achilles heel of this regime is certainly not by taking up arms and fighting them in decades-long wars and conflicts. Let [the Iranian people] gain back their freedom with your support. You're not there to dictate to them a solution. You're not there to dictate to them an outcome. Let them make their own decision."

Globe & Mail
Caroline Alphonse