- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The exiled son of Iran‘s former shah said protests rocking the Tehran government could topple the clerical regime and called on Western powers to back the uprisings and abandon any hope that the regime will ever behave like a “normal” government.

While 59-year-old Reza Pahlavi stopped short Wednesday of predicting when the regime might fall, he told an audience at the Hudson Institute in Washington that the protests are unlike anything he’s seen since the 1979 Iranian revolution — including massive demonstrations in the late 1990s and the Green Movement that swept Tehran after the contested 2009 national elections.

“I think people smell the opportunity for the first time in 40 years this time. … The people have had it,” said Mr. Pahlavi, whose U.S.-backed father was ousted in the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

For a rising generation of younger Iranians, he added, “the only thing that stands between them and the free world is this regime … that cannot claim that it didn’t have an opportunity in 40 years to normalize and to take care of its own people.”

Mr. Pahlavi, who lives in the United States and heads an umbrella anti-regime exile organization called the National Council of Iran for Free Elections, is loathed by Iranian theocratic leaders. The clerical regime that has since held power still expresses outrage over a 1953 CIA-backed coup that had secured Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi‘s absolute power for decades.

The regime’s bungled handling of a downed Ukrainian Airlines flight on the night Iran fired missile at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops last week has rekindled anti-government protests in the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities, after the country appeared to be uniting in condemnation of a U.S. airstrike that killed a top Iranian general.

The new protests have morphed into anti-regime demonstrations not unlike those that gripped dozens of Iranian cities late last year after Tehran had announced a 300% increase in heavily subsidized fuel prices. While peaceful at first, the earlier demonstrations sparked a crackdown by the regime, which human rights groups say resulted in hundreds of deaths.

The Trump administration has strongly backed the protests and ratcheted up sanctions on top Iranian officials. President Trump this week warned Iranian officials against using violence to suppress the protests.

But Mr. Pahlavi pushed for more.

“The people of Iran need to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. They need to have hope that they won’t be abandoned,” he said.

He did not mention the Trump administration by name, but appeared to directly criticize it, suggesting Washington should be calling for outright regime change.

President Trump has hardened U.S. Iran policy since pulling out of the Obama-era nuclear deal 17 months ago. Conservative analysts applaud his determination to coerce Iran into behaving — as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has put it — like “a normal nation.”

But Mr. Pompeo and other top advisers say the administration is not seeking “regime change.” The goal, they say, is to pressure Iran‘s current leadership to enter into new negotiations toward more far-reaching accord than the 2015 nuclear deal.

Mr. Pahlavi expressed distaste for the approach Wednesday.

“In offering the regime negotiations without preconditions, you neglect the people’s demand for unconditional support,” he said. “In fact, you betray them by accommodating their oppressors.”

“It has long been time to recognize,” he added, “that this is not a normal regime and that it will not change its behavior.”

Many analysts warn the regime’s grip on power remains solid and capable of crushing a sustained uprising. Some caution that encouraging the protests might lead to a wider unrest and a humanitarian crisis for the wider Middle East.

Mr. Pahlavi brushed such concerns aside Wednesday.

“To the outside world, my message is that the fact that you’re concerned about not having anarchy doesn’t justify your policy of maintaining the status quo. That is no longer tenable.”

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