Shah's son calls on West to help Iran's opposition

Reza Pahlavi wants the international community to stop focusing on the country's nuclear programme and aid the protesters.

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PARIS // The son of the former Shah of Iran has called on the international community to step up its support for Iran's opposition movement and stop focusing on the country's nuclear programme. In an interview with the Associated Press, Reza Pahlavi, whose father was toppled from power 31 years ago, said countries such as the United States should not bother with a new round of sanctions regarding Iran's nuclear programme, if punitive measures merely maintain the status quo.

Instead, he suggested the kind of encouragement that ended South Africa's apartheid system and caused the breakup of the Soviet Union. Mr Pahlavi, 50, said that should include dialogue with the Iran's opposition, which has managed to keep up periodic street protests in the country since last year's disputed presidential elections in June, despite a fierce crackdown. He also said the opposition needs outside technological support to beat government eavesdropping and internet crackdowns in Iran, and stay connected with the outside world. Mr Pahlavi, speaking yesterday in Paris, where he was visiting from his present home in the US, said: "The world is facing a regime today that is totalitarian, racist, fascist and yet what has been done about it? To this day no one has officially said 'basta' [stop]."

The interview occurred as Iran celebrated the birth of the Islamic Republic in 1979 and the overthrow of Mr Pahlavi's father, the late Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. The shah's son said Western leaders must reach out to Iran's opposition movement, but instead they have displayed what he described as bashfulness, hesitancy and even passivity. He criticised what he called President Barack Obama's tepid outreach to the Iranian people and their exiled opposition. Mr Pahlavi said that 40 Nobel Prize winners appealed to Mr Obama and other world leaders this week in an advertisement in the New York Times to let the Iranian people "know that we are on their side."

Mr Pahlavi recommended tacit dialogue with Iran's opposition and diplomatic outreach to isolate the regime. Iranian officials claim foreign powers are behind the country's reform movement, but Mr Pahlavi insisted that was not correct. Western nations are pressing for a possible fourth set of UN sanctions on Iran for its failure to comply with UN resolutions aimed at guaranteeing it cannot produce nuclear weapons. Pahlavi said a window of opportunity may slip away while the world was dilly-dallying over sanctions, instead of focusing on issues such as human rights abuses in Iran.

"External sanctions against the regime do not suffice. You have to bring into your calculation an element of pressure from within," he said. "And the only way to do that is by strengthening the hand of the people inside the country." If sanctions are going to be "all you're going to be doing while keeping the status quo, don't even bother," Mr Pahlavi said. He said he wanted to see a peaceful transition, via civil disobedience, to a parliamentary democracy in his country with a clear separation of religion from government and he favoured a referendum so that Iranians can choose their form of government. Mr Pahlavi predicted that change could come "within a matter of months - if not maybe a couple of years tops" if Iranian society was empowered and dialogue not limited to the regime.

"Nothing bars the world from having a line of dialogue with the opposition and that, strangely, has been absent," he said. The level of support that Mr Pahlavi or other exiled opposition movements have inside Iran today is unclear. Three decades after the Islamic revolution, young people in Iran, who make up the majority of the population, have never known the country as a monarchy. Last month, authorities hanged two men convicted of belonging to outlawed monarchist groups and plotting to overthrow the Islamic regime. * AP