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Source: The Guardian

Feb 27, 2023

Reza Pahlavi, whose father was deposed in 1979, says west must give full support and proscribe the Revolutionary Guards

BY Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The Iranian revolution is at a do-or-die moment, requiring western governments to give their full, active support or risk seeing the movement’s impact wane, said Reza Pahlavi, the oldest son of the former Shah of Iran, deposed in 1979, in a Guardian interview.

Pahlavi said there were signs that if the west imposed maximum pressure, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and some reformist politicians would desert the regime.

Exiled since he was 17 and sometimes described as the “crown prince”, Pahlavi has joined forces with high-profile young activists inside and outside Iran to forge an alliance. They are trying to draw up a charter based on a set of secular democratic principles, which a constituent assembly would use as the basis of a constitution to be put to a referendum.

The charter, due to have been published at the end of February, has been temporarily delayed to allow Kurdish groups to consult on the proposals.

Pahlavi, who is on a European tour, has two key demands of the west: to help Iranians avoid the regime’s suppression of the internet, and to proscribe, rather than just impose sanctions on, the IRGC.

He said: “The reason the revolution is continuing is because everybody understands this is do-or-die. Iranains are calling for ‘death to the dictator’. They are getting shot in the eyes and, if not, imprisoned or tortured or executed, and they are still standing there. The world needs to respond and be on their side.”

So far, the campaign, given a platform at the Munich Security Conference instead of the Iranian foreign ministry, has been unable to persuade either the EU or the UK to proscribe the IRGC. The suspicion is that diplomats fear proscription would kill the small chance of reviving the Iran nuclear deal. The CIA director, William Burns, said on Sunday that Iran is now nearing the uranium-enrichment level of a nuclear state, but had not resumed weaponisation.

Pahlavi said: “Political expediency often has a problem with freedom-loving movements. The fact some governments are suggesting the protests are tapering off is perhaps because they want to justify some re-engagement and negotiations. It’s a bit like South Africa at the end of apartheid. Governments tried to ignore the issue until it was impossible to do so.”

In parallel with supporting labour strikes in Iran, he said proscription of the IRGC would cripple its operations worldwide. He said the IRGC, as distinct from the regular army, “is an armed paramilitary mafia that controls every aspect of the country, but only the top echelons of the IRGC benefit from this.

The lower ranks have to decide if they want to be used as an instrument of repression, or to consider this regime is on its last legs and they should take the exit strategy being offered to them, through truth and reconciliation, and return to the bosom of the nation. In my vision of regime change, the lower paramilitary ranks peel away from the regime, but that requires maximum pressure by the west.”

He said there were signs that some reformists politicians – those he said were in the “grey zone” – such as Mir Hosssein Mousavi, the former prime minister, are realising that the regime is not capable of reform. “The discourse of the reformists is increasingly: ‘Forget about reform. It is not going to work, and we need to think past this regime.’ There is a convergence with what we are saying.”

Pahlavi denies his presence in the new opposition alliance harks back to the past, or makes the movement ideologically incoherent. “I am not here to be president or the next monarch. I am here to use my political capital and the trust that people have in me to be instrumental in helping the transition process. My only mission in life is to see the day the Iranians go to the polls and decide their own fate.”

But, he adds: “if afterwards I can contribute by helping to institutionalise checks on concentration of power, or corruption, or abuse of power… that is where I think I can be most effective”.

He said some see value in the institution of the monarchy, as a force bringing the country together. “I want to be a neutral element. I am neither in the camp of the monarchists or republicans.”

As to the record of his father, accused of human rights abuses and corruption, he says: “I am my own person with my own thoughts.” But nor does he disown his father’s rule, brought to an end by the 1979 revolution. “Obviously there were some mistakes made. Nobody denies that. But net, if you look at the balance, most people say the country was moving forward. Iran was prospering. Had it not been for this revolution, we should at least have been South Korea. Instead, we are North Korea.”

He adds he does not condone torture, but denies it was ever state policy. “People do not look at me as going back to the past. They look at me and see someone moving towards a future.”

He dismisses suggestions that the campaign of which he is part has no purchase inside Iran, and is just a motley collection of diaspora activists. “It originates from inside Iran, and that is why it has legitimacy. This is not something we concocted to export to Iran. Quite the opposite.

We are the voice of those inside Iran that cannot openly advocate for obvious reasons. It is a diverse group: left, right, centre, republicans and monarchists.”

He said he welcomes other political charters being floated, as they have been in recent days, and says his alliance’s proposal would be worthless if it does not have signoff from within Iran. “In terms of time, we do not have a gun to our head if people need time to consult, so be it.”

He argued the revival of the nuclear deal, the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPoA), would only benefit China, not the west. “It is curious to me that the Biden administration is so hell-bent on rejuvenating a JCPoA, when first time round the west did not benefit economically. As long as this regime is in power there will be a complete block on cooperating with the west. That is the mindset”.

But that does not lead Pahlavi to support a military attack on Iran’s nuclear sites, which Israel clearly favours. He says he understands Israel feels it faces an existential threat, but “we cannot jump from failed diplomacy to military confrontation. There is a third way, and that is to give that extra push to the people in the streets to help end this regime. It would be historically criminal not to give that process a chance before you resort to other options.”

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