I want my country free but MEK is not a choice I like for future of my country!
In Depth: Reza Pahlavi
Fareed Zakaria: In 1978 when my guest came to the United States, he was the Crown Prince of what appeared to be one of the most powerful monarchies in the world. Reza Pahlavi was the son of the late Shah of Iran. Today he is one of the most tireless advocates of democracy and human rights in that country and has spent many years organizing in various ways an opposition to the current regime. Pleasure to have you here.
Reza Pahlavi: Good to see you again, Fareed.
Fareed Zakaria: Let me ask you; what is your sense of what is going on internally in Iran now? We have had an election in which what appears to have happened is that the more conservative elements within the ruling establishment have won against what appeared to be the more worldly elements; Rafsanjani being a more worldly character, but also regarded as very corrupt; the current President--Ahmadinejad regarded as more austere, more hard-lined, but also more honest. What does that tell us about whats going on inside Iran?
Reza Pahlavi: Well in a nutshell because its a very complex picture to explain--what you have is basically a choice made by the regime to gather its last strength as a means of survival and the only way they could attempt to maintain some degree of control is by tightening the grip. You can see that as--as ever apparent in Iran today in terms of whatever was the hope of reform, which is now completely dead as a movement, and instead you have even a more radical system in place than you had before the reform movement even started.
Fareed Zakaria: But why did people vote for Ahmadinejad? I mean here is a hard-lined conservative; there were five options people were given. I--I understand that the system is rigged and that all the real democrats are not allowed to run, but you had five options. The liberal reformer came last; the most hard-line conservative Islamist came in first. Does that suggest there is some constituency for this--for the Mullahs?
Reza Pahlavi: Well first of all as you indicated, the numbers are definitely rigged because by every statistics that we checked into, most of the people boycotted the elections for good reason, and the reason they didnt want to participate was not because they had to yet again make a choice between the lesser of the two evils, but because they knew that the regime is holding the so-called elections only for one purpose and that is to make the outside world believe that there is some degree of legitimacy for the system itself. Give credence to the regime by participating in elections could only have meant that. But the bottom line is that the appearance of Ahmadinejad was a total surprise to the majority of the people who thought that Mr. Rafsanjani would be the shoe-in candidate. But it shows yet again that the regime has maneuvered to have somebody like Ahmadinejad in a position where they can more easily have at this--their own appearance at the higher ranks under the much better and closer control of Ahmadinejad, the supreme leader himself. The bottom line is that it has created an environment of instability. The bureaucracy is dysfunctional. The middle class is totally uncomfortable with this as far as--whether theyre in private or public sector; its also hurting the lower classes because basically without a functioning bureaucracy youre not going to have any kind of goods and services in the way that will satisfy even the lower classes.
Fareed Zakaria: But let me ask you this, Reza; for two decades people like you have been saying this regime is about to crack and crumble and it doesnt happen. Why?
Reza Pahlavi: Well I think there are several reasons that goes into this. Number one is that most of the foreign countries that have been dealing with Iran until today have never sensed a kind of foreign threat emanating from Tehran oddly enough despite the fact that the regime had been involved with terrorism and had been involved in a lot of activities regionally and beyond. Now the nuclear question is coming into the picture and people are taking the threats coming from Tehran more seriously. But until then, I dont think the outside world who was too busy looking for economic interests and in a sense undermining what has been a human rights issue or a lack of political freedom issue in Iran had never put the kind of pressure that is usually exerted onto the totalitarian systems. Case in point, I dont think that we saw a fall of apartheid in South Africa or for that matter the liberation of the countries behind the Iron Curtain ever since the Soviet Union crumbled had it not been for pressure from the outside world. So how the world can in fact increase the chance of change is what I want to address to answer your question.
Fareed Zakaria: But let me ask you this.
Reza Pahlavi: That hasnt been done.
Fareed Zakaria: At $66 a barrel is it likely that there will be either weakness internally or much pressure externally? In other words, the Mullahs are racking up huge surpluses in terms of the budget--their budgets because of the price of oil.
Reza Pahlavi: If that means that the regimes own collaborators would help it maintain its war machine in part, one could argue that. Does it affect the people? No; the people are even more poor than before, theyre more disenchanted, theyre more disillusioned, and frankly you have to keep in mind, Fareed, when this regime came into power in Iran in 1979, Iran had a population of about 35,000,000. Today its nearly 70,000,000 people meaning--meaning that 35,000,000 people in that country are 25 or younger, meaning its a whole new generation that aspires to different future. They want to be like the Western world. They want to have the same freedoms that people enjoy in the country like the United States where theres no discrimination against women or against minorities or creeds or different faiths. What we have in Iran today is the total opposite of that dream.
Fareed Zakaria: The nuclear program of Iran was started under your father.
Reza Pahlavi: Correct.
Fareed Zakaria: Shouldnt Iran--in his view, my sense is he believed that Iran should have had a nuclear option because it was a great power in the region, but whats wrong with the Mullahs fulfilling that--that policy?
Reza Pahlavi: Talking about nuclear technology is one thing; Iran was a signatory to the NPT and therefore it was not a question of developing nuclear weapons at any point. Fareed, we live in a country and its kind of funny because when I think of it, people would not let individuals drive a car while intoxicated. You wouldnt want to have known a child molester is hanging around prep schools. Yet, youre talking about a regime that has been proven time and again to be involved in all aspects of--of terrorism both at home and abroad, and giving them access to sell technology is like giving the keys to a drunk driver. Can the world trust this regime at the end of the day? My point is its not about the nuclear technology; Im defending the fact that Iran ought to have the option of that technology or any country for that matter. But what is accountable at the end of the day are regimes and governments that are answerable to their own citizenry and to the norms and rules of international law, meaning theres a democratic system in place, absence of which in Iran causes all the concerns. If 76 percent of Iranians believe that Iran should have nuclear technology, almost 92 percent of the very same people are worried that Iran will have access to that technology under this very regime. That means that they make the difference between our rights as opposed to this regime having access to it.
Fareed Zakaria: In your efforts to speak with and organize some degree of internal opposition in Iran is it your sense that the last few years youve been more successful or is it getting worse?
Reza Pahlavi: The success is based entirely on the fact that we have a new generation coming into the picture, a new generation of leaders, thinkers, managers, who once in a position of power and authority will be able to address the situation.
Fareed Zakaria: In Iran?
Reza Pahlavi : In Iran as well as outside, but in Iran--again, Im addressing the generational people who know exactly what they want. They are committed to the very same ideas that the whole world knows it will breathe a sigh of relief if in fact it does take place. Unlike the Ahmadinejad(s) of this world who are completely on the opposite of the scale. So the internal struggle in Iran is based on whether or not we can help the people aspire to such freedom? How can we help them; how can we engage them; how can we help them identify each other and communicate with them? Not only it should be the burden of the democratic opposition of which Im part, but I think this is where foreign government should start investing because the only way that youre going to bring the regime down in Iran by helping the Iranian people decide for regime change; Im not suggesting that the outside world should advocate it, but the Iranian people demand it. The best way to do it is to help the pro-democracy movement. Why; because that is why it will--that is where it can hurt the regime the most. Thats its weaknesses. Its not air strikes; its not any kind of other scenarios that will make a regime think twice and take the outside world seriously and thats I think what--what is the US government or European governments or any other government for that matter--we have to invest in this youth because they represent a future not only of Iran but I think of the region.
Fareed Zakaria: Let me ask you one last question. When you left Iran, youre 17 years old, and you were the Crown Prince. Do you sometimes look back wistfully at what--the world that you lost?
Reza Pahlavi: No; Ive been brought up with the morale of feeling comfortable in two ways and to me the biggest principle in my life has been never lose faith in the Creator and always have a clear conscience, and as far as my political judgment goes, I always look ahead. I never look back. And that has been my commitment to my compatriots and to my country. Im an Iranian above all. I very much doubt that had I been there and have simply transitioned into--as a Crown Prince to the next monarch in the country I would have had all the experience and knowledge that I have acquired since Ive been outside of my country. I consider that a blessing--not a curse.
Fareed Zakaria: Okay; the school of hard knocks.
Reza Pahlavi: Exactly.
Fareed Zakaria: Reza Pahlavi, pleasure to have you on.
Reza Pahlavi: Nice to see you again, Fareed; thank you.