CROWN PRINCE REZA PAHLAVI is of the bestknown Iranian personalities, standing in sharp distinction to the Islamic Republic’s bellicose president and ayatollah. Pahlavi is the son of the late Shah of Iran and has lived in the United States since the revolution in 1979. He’s known as an advocate of the principles of freedom, democracy and human rights.
The Iranian government says it has as much right as any other regime to
have nuclear power – even nuclear weapons. How should the international
community be responding to that statement?
This interview was conducted earlier this week by phone.
The matter is quite complex,
but let’s go back to the period before the revolution. At the time, Iran
was a country that had already embarked on the pursuit of nuclear
energy. Having signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, we had
gained the ownership of ten percent of shares in a company called
Eurodif, which was going to supply Iran with the rod to fuel our two
initial nuclear reactors that had started construction – my point being
that at the time, nobody questioned the sovereign right of the Iranian
nation to have access to nuclear technology.
What has changed is that since the revolution, we have had for 30 years
and counting, a regime that has been at the top of the list of the
world’s sponsors of terrorism, radicalism and extremism; constantly
making violence in the Middle East and beyond, with very dubious
intentions in terms of where it really wants to take the path of its
From all indicators, there is very little question that if the regime
was, from the very beginning, transparent and honest about its true
intentions, it would not have been so much trying to conceal or hide its
We have to understand why it is that such a regime would like to have
access to nuclear weapons well beyond having the right to nuclear
technology.Iran insists it only seeks domestic nuclear power.Does Iran intend to create nuclear weapons; and if so, how far away from
being able to do so do you think the Iranian regime is?
Well, this is
an expert analysis that is required in terms of how far up the ladder of
getting closer to the imminent ability to actually manufacture nuclear
weapons the regime is. Because it’s not just a matter of enrichment, as
you know. It’s a matter of delivering mechanism; ballistic technology;
trigger mechanism; and a whole bunch of other things that go into it.
Experts vary in terms of the time line of how close the regime is to it.
But irrespective of the time line, it is the intention that we have to
be quite wary and concerned about. In that sense, clearly, if there was
no sense of emergency and alarm, the whole world would not be talking
about this constantly, the issue making the headlines in just about
every newspaper around the planet.
Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a mad man?
I don’t think he’s a “mad man.” He’s
an individual who is very committed to his view and ideology. There’s
almost a sort of apocalyptic mentality that reigns here and he’s not
alone in it. Unfortunately, there are a few people who may sign up for
that kind of a point of view.
The problem is that we have this kind of regime represented by such
individuals who have taken, first-andforemost, the Iranian people
hostage for the past 30 years and who are completely uninterested about
the state of our own citizens. They are only interested to use Iran as a
base from which to launch what was from the very beginning the
exploitation of a theocracy and Islamic ideology across the planet as a
challenge to the rest of the world.How seriously should we be taking him (Ahmadinejad)?
I think you should
take him very seriously. The last time the world was not quite sure
about the final threat was at the time of Hitler in Nazi Germany and we
know the rest of the story. If we look at these kind of regimes that
have been completely merciless vis-à-vis their own population; who have
been brutally shooting our youth on the streets simply because they ask
for their freedom; and are willing to stop at nothing to intimidate the
whole world to submit to their demand, I think we should take it very
seriously.Here in the West, we hear about young Iranians rejecting the
Khamenai-Ahmadinejad regime. Could another revolution be possible?
already happening. If you look at the way society in Iran has reacted
for years – and not just because of what happened last summer – but
particularly as a result of what happened last summer during the
Today, you see a generation of young Iranians who are committed to fight
even if it means risking and losing their lives to ultimately get rid
of this regime and achieve full freedom. This is no longer a debate over
more moderation or for awhile being fooled by the idea that there is
any reform possible by this regime – not only from the domestic
perspective but from the international perspective.
Today, the fight is led by people who are committed to a campaign of
hidden resistance. The discipline of nonviolence has been for the most
part observed by the protesters and I think at the end of the day, this
movement could culminate into something that could be a wellorganized or
orchestrated campaign of resistance: perhaps even labor strikes that
could in fact bring the regime to its knees and ultimately cause its
This is the best way for Iran to not only achieve its goal of freedom,
which would immediately have a positive impact and ramification not only
in our area, but on the rest of the world. It is the ultimate guarantee
by bringing in democracy and secularism as a means to preserve our
cultural and religious identities and to guarantee self-determination
and human rights. Iran is a country that has always and throughout its
glorious history been contributing to world civilization as opposed to a
clerical regime that is asking for its demise under a very utopian
ideology that only a few at the top believe in, and not the rest of the
population.There are some who argue that sanctions could have a negative backlash.
One example that is given is that students seeking to study abroad –
including in the United States – won’t be able to do so. In the long
run, do you think it’s a good idea for young Iranians to be exposed to
I’m glad you asked this question. First of all, clearly, it’s a
little bit like tuna fishing and when you want to do tuna fishing, you
get some innocent dolphins that are caught in the net. The problem with
sanctions is that it sometimes could have counter-effects. For example,
not only the issue of restrictions on students coming abroad to study,
but even to take an SAT or Kaplan exam, or be able to send money back
home to help fellow Iranians: all of this is subject to restrictions
because of the current policy of sanctions.
Now, I’m not suggesting that sanctions are not effective to some extent.
If they are targeted smartly, sanctions, yes, could end up hurting the
regime somewhat, particularly in the short term. However, I do have an
issue with the policy of sanctions as an end in itself. The only way
that actual pressure could be levied against the regime is ultimately to
bring the element of pressure from within Iran against the regime,
mainly from the hands of the people themselves, as opposed to relying
solely on external measures of pressure such as the current economic
Let us not forget one thing: empowerment at the end of the day will
render society better-equipped to fight the regime from within. But
reliance on sanctions only will render a weakened society which will
find it much more difficult to resist because you are not also really
weakening the regime at the very end. Each instrumental coercion will
have an easier time facing a helpless society than it will facing a
better organized, better structured and better supported population.I recollect that when we sat on a panel together at a Global Leadership
Conference, you talked about the fact that the young students were able
to glean a lot of information and education by being educated abroad and
many of these were those who were in the revolution. So having said
that, by being counterproductive, won’t these sanctions boomerang?
as I said, there is a whole wealth of assets and information that could
be at better disposal of all those in the country who are struggling
for their liberty and for their rights. People who have access to a
variety of human or other resources abroad to connect with activists at
home obviously reinforce the hand of the people. So if you restrict the
people more than you restrict the regime, that will obviously be
That’s why we have to be very careful when we implement sanctions to
make sure they target the regime and the regime only, with minimal
damage and cost to the nation itself. It has to be carefully reviewed
and assessed; and not only “one glove fits all.” Every country has its
own traditions and specifics, particularly a complex country like Iran.American policy through the past two administrations calls for nations
to choose sides – with either Western-led moderates or Iran’s axis. Is
this policy feasible?
I would verbalize it in a different way. Is the
choice between forms of regimes – democratic regimes that is, that we
find often in the free world, particularly in the West – a path through
which Iran can find its salvation? Here I understand fundamentally that
some of the values that are embedded in Western society – liberty,
equality, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly,
media, labor unions, human rights, a democratic establishment, a checks
and balance system, a separation of religion from government – are
opposed to any system that is based on an ideology that is totalitarian
or that is against fascist or discriminatory vis-àvis a great portion of
its own citizens. Obviously, if you give that choice to people, the
choice is clear. I think that is the choice that the Iranian people
today are faced with and it goes without saying that obviously they are
up for the former rather than the latter if given the opportunity.Some see the Saudis as reaching out to Teheran.Recently, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal told a French paper that
Iran deserves to be treated as a leading force in the Middle East and
Iran’s foreign minister has said that conditions are now ripe for
expanding and boosting ties and cooperation with Saudi Arabia.Do you see this and why now?
If you ask me how respective governments in
the Middle East have to react to or anticipate various scenarios in the
months or years to come, what it really boils down to is an assessment
of whether or not they are playing with fire. What has been clear all
these years is that the regime from the get-go was antagonistic; was
trying to and continues to try to foment instability – ultimately to
force the region to succumb to some kind of a modern-day Shiite
caliphate under Iranian regional hegemony; all of it perhaps backed by
the very deterrent we talked about at the beginning of the interview:
forcing the world to submit to that as a fait accompli. I find it a
little bit difficult for a lot of people to sort of agree to some kind
of a fait accompli and say, “Well, there’s no way we can change the
course of events and Iran will undoubtedly under this regime demand to
have its way.”
The question is the regime that is in Iran – the regime that has now
taken our country hostage and is willing to do anything for its own
survival – and not to be confused with Iran as a country.Will this tip the balance of the region toward Iran?
Again, if indeed
the regime’s survival is what is willingly or unwillingly prolonged as a
result of regional inaction or indifference; then clearly there will be
some degree of balance tilting towards Iran. But understand one thing:
contrary to what the country wants to project, its internal
fragmentation continues to increase.
Despite the fact that the regime is trying to tighten its screws; and
despite the fact that the regime is increasing its violence against its
own people in an attempt to intimidate them into submission; and despite
the fact that the regime is spending millions and millions of dollars
financing its own war machine at the expense of hungry people or workers
who haven’t been paid their salaries for months, Iran continues to
finance groups like Hizbullah in Lebanon and other places. And despite
all of this, there’s more disenchantment within the ranks in the regime.
There are more indications of defections from within some of its
coercive forces, all of which indicates a very delicate and fragile
situation within the regime that has not been so vulnerable ever since
its creation. That is, I think, an opportunity – not only for the
people, but I think in a way for the rest of the world. If we miss this
opportunity and allow this regime to regroup and continue on its path,
then we have with our own hands contributed to the regime’s survival and
then we have to live with the consequences.Is Israel capable of launching a formidable attack on Iran’s nuclear
I think this would be a very disastrous event if it were to
occur. I have long stated that I think this would be a lose-lose
proposition by and large, especially when there’s a much better
alternative in play, which will be much less costly and far more
legitimate than trying to bring any change as a result of any kind of
external measures, particularly of the violent and military kind.
You have in place the best natural army in the world: namely, the
Iranian people themselves, who have bravely fought this fight for years,
without any help or support from anyone in the international community.
Today, they are already committed to that struggle and I think this is a
much better way to put pressure on the regime and abide by
international rules. It’s a much better way to help the Iranian people
bring about whatever changes they want in Iran and nothing is being done
about this while everybody contemplates striking the country just
because they don’t have faith in diplomacy, which was doomed from the
I think there’s still a chance for a lot of serious fundamental change
that will bring an end to all the threats if Iran wants to change from
this regime to a democratic nation. If it invests time and effort in
helping the movement of the young people in Iran today and be supportive
of their demands; be supportive of what they want; engage them after 30
years of limiting engagement to only members of the regime and its
I don’t think that’s far too much to ask for those of us who are
fighting for freedom.
What I am saying is that in my opinion, not using this opportunity and
going straight to conflict would be historically criminal. That option
has to be given its chance but the time is limited and the window of
opportunity is now. I hope that many key governments will decide to
commit some of their policies to give a chance for this movement to
succeed before jumping to conclusions that the only familiars we’re left
with are either capitulation or attacking Iran.Just to follow up on this thought, Admiral Mullen says the military
option remains on the U.S. table. As an American and as an Iranian, do
you believe this is really an option for the Obama administration?
the [Obama] administration has spent, in my view, too much time, in
maintaining its extended hand of engagement toward the regime without
getting anything in return. Meanwhile, the clock has been ticking. Some
countries in the area are becoming more antsy about the imminence of
Iran’s ability to be equipped with weapons of mass destruction.
Obviously, the rhetoric and language from some key countries would be to
mention the fact we are exploring this and this is an option on the
table. I could not say otherwise.
But that doesn’t mean to me that there is a major change of policy.
We need to think a little bit outside the box and perhaps look at other
avenues. It’s not limited to the character of this administration
because successive, previous administrations have fallen systematically
into the same “loophole” – and I’m not even saying the same “trap.”
Einstein said, if I’m not mistaken, that “thinking that doing more of
the same will produce a different outcome is a sign of insanity.” When I
look at the overall diplomacy of the free world, particularly of the
U.S., I can only see a repeat pattern of the same attempts made while
hoping to obtain a different result. Something’s got to change.What will Iran look like in five years?
I hope it will take less than
five years to have a fundamental change if our movement is successful
and I believe it has every potential to be successful. But as I said and
I hate to be repetitive, the time is really now.
Because as much as the Iranian people can be empowered, and therefore
heartened and therefore optimistic toward their future – and I’m
specifically speaking about today’s generation – these are tomorrow’s
leaders in Iran. These are the kids, the daughters, the sons of a
previous generation who are left there to fight and fend for themselves
with no possible help so far available to them and yes, they are
resilient in their struggle.
This could turn quickly to cynicism and deception if they think the
world has abandoned them. Remember what the slogans were on the streets
of Teheran one year ago. There were signs in different languages – in
English, in French – and this was not for some Iranians practicing their
language skills among themselves.
They were clearly aimed at the West. And among those slogans were
“Obama, Obama, are you with us or with them?” That warrants a response.
We have yet to hear that response. That means Iranians could turn more
radical as a result of their deception; as a result of their cynicism;
and that doesn't bode well, not only for Iran but for the world. And it
will be a testimony to the fact that no real help is ever given to
nations that want to struggle for liberty because perhaps there are some
other interests that no one really wants to talk about. If that is not
true, then we need to see a genuine attempt to help the society.
We are not asking the world to determine our fate—that is the business
of the Iranian people alone. All we are asking is that today it is time
to engage with the people of Iran; with the freedom movements; with
those who are struggling for their rights for self-determination and
We are fighting against those who have denied us these rights and it's
about time that we are heard and have our “day in court,” as the saying
goes. This is an opportunity that we are facing right now as I speak to
you. It's right in front of us.
It's right under our noses literally, and I have yet to see a concrete
policy -- whether it's the U.S. government or some of its other allies
in the region or in Europe -- that will indicate that beyond attempting a
few diplomatic negotiating tactics and besides posturing for the
possibility of conflict, there is any real effort made to go beyond the
regime and its representatives and try to connect and try to see how
they can be of help to the Iranian people without having to attack our
country and bomb our homeland.Other than sanctions, what would you suggest?
There has to be proactive
attempts made in facilitating better communication between Iranians at
home; technological support; broadcasting capabilities; some degree of
structure and organization within and outside; with the help of
Iranians, activists, NGOs, civil societies, members of the Diaspora,
political groups and organizations. A lot can be done, but this requires
much more focus than simply thinking of the regime and engaging its
representatives.FELICE FRIEDSON is president and CEO of The Media Line Ltd., an American
news agency specializing in coverage of the Middle East. She can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.