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    After 20 years in exile, Reza Shah II no long expects to rule Iran
    His dream is to serve the people, he tells Elizabeth Grice

Daily Telegraph, London
Thursday 3 June 1999

HIS Imperial Majesty Reza Shah II is eating small Iranian cucumbers from a fruit bowl to ease his prickly throat. He snaps them in half and crunches them noisily, ignoring the huge plate of patisserie laid before him by his London hostess. Neither the cucumbers nor the bad throat are capable of interrupting the urgent flow of his thoughts.

It is amazing that a man who has spent the first half of his life expecting to succeed to the Peacock Throne and the second half predicting the imminent downfall of the ayatollahs who made it impossible, can still command a sense of urgency. He should long since have joined the ranks of exiled monarchs who are sailing their yachts or doing nicely in business. Instead, he is travelling the world with new messages of hope for the Iranian diaspora.

The collapse of Islamic republicanism may seem as distant now as it did when his late father was dramatically overthrown 20 years ago; as distant as when Ayatollah Khomeini died a decade later. But Reza Pahlavi, a professional optimist, finds the "forces of change" gathering momentum and is prepared to act as a catalyst for them, should he be needed.

Once, he would have said that constitutional monarchy offered the best hope for Iran, but today he is much more circumspect. Only five years ago, he was talking of armed struggle as a final option. Today, it is all patience, evolution. The words "king" and "ruler" never pass his lips. He refers to his father's reign as "the previous order" and talks in deliberately modest terms about his role in helping to restore democracy.

"If I tried to lift this table all by myself," he says, "I would have a very difficult time. But if 20 people all gave their little finger to help, it would probably come off the ground. That's the spirit I'm trying to introduce. It is not a job for one individual."

Pahlavi is a smooth, hawkish-looking man with heavy eyebrows and a genetically flat nose; much taller than his father - who was styled "Superior Presence, Shadow of God on Earth, Light of the Aryans" - and considerably more aware of the way the wind blows. He will soon be 40, and realism is beginning to set in as he contemplates yet more years in exile. 35.2

"I am not crazy enough to insist on something that cannot be done," he says. "It is all very well dedicating your life to a cause that is noble and fine, but it also has to be practical. If I cannot be successful - or at least useful - then I must move on. I owe that to my wife and children."

His wife, Yasmine, a former political student, is the beautiful daughter of Iranian exiles. They live, far from grandly, with their two young daughters in a suburb of Washington DC. Whatever Pahlavi's precise fortune when he went into exile, £16 million of it was apparently squandered by the boyhood mentor he appointed as his financial adviser - something that he admits he was not "street-smart" enough to anticipate.

"I was not raised in the middle of bar fights where people stab you in the back," he explains. "It was a loving, protective environment. I was suddenly placed on a platform at the age of 20 and had to start performing. Because I had other obligations, I had to delegate the management of my finances. The last thing I imagined was that someone I grew up with would take advantage of me."

He says his mother, former Empress Farah Dibah, the late Shah's widow, helps him financially and so do his siblings - Farahnaz, Ali Reza and Leila.

Perhaps it was Ahmed Ali Massoud Ansari's heist that has made Pahlavi aware of where he might be now if he had not tried to hound the Islamic regime and gone into business instead. He certainly thinks he owes it to his family to be pragmatic. "When I married, my wife knew exactly what she was getting into. She knows where we are going. She also knows that I am capable of saying when it is time to walk away. I am practically half way through my life and I would like to have something to show for it."

His new initiative, though not ostensibly political, may provide him at last with a tangible memorial. The Mihan Foundation ("mihan" means homeland), which he plans to launch this summer, is intended to act as a huge information and education network between isolated Iran and what he calls the "outside world". With its wide use of the Internet, and focus on linking Iranians inside and outside the country, he sees it as a mechanism for modernising Iran without getting into a political debate.

His grand plan is to restore Iran's image in the world "not as a nation identified with terrorism and radicalism, but as a nation that has been the cradle of civilisation and is still capable of being a sophisticated society". Whether as the head of a foundation, or as a focus for opposition groups, he is certain he has a part to play.

But how will he know whether he's being effective? "That is the $64,000 question. I don't know if there is a clear answer."

One problem, as he sees it, is that "people don't have the normal expectations of me that they would have of any other Iranian. It is not fair, but I was born with it. Call it a curse, call it a privilege, I am by definition held to a much higher standard. For that reason alone, I have to give it a harder try."

Four million people, some of the brightest and best-educated, have left Iran since the revolution and Pahlavi hopes to harness their patriotism through his foundation. Many probably now have no wish to return, but his own longing to do so is transparent.

"The toughest pill for me to swallow," he says, "is the thought that I might never see my country again. I think I will see it. I know that I will die somewhere in my country. But the pain of wanting to be there, yet not able to be, is the worst thing in the world, worse than withdrawal symptoms for someone who is on some kind of drug."

He found the hardest question he has had to face about exile was from his elder daught

er, Noor, now seven. "If Iran matters so much," she said, "how come we're not there?" "I did not want to make it sound like a fairy tale with bad guys and good guys," he says. "I was afraid of painting a picture that would make my children feel bad about the country. I am sure many Iranian families who were uprooted or forced to leave the country as a result of the persecution or intolerance of the current regime have found themselves in the same predicament."

Reza Pahlavi became heir to the Peacock Throne on 31 October, 1960. His mother was driven to the hospital in Teheran down carpeted streets; his birth was announced by 121 gunshots and celebrated with an amnesty for 98 political prisoners and a 20 per cent reduction in Iranian income tax.

"The news travelled to the four corners of the earth," said his mother later. "There was an explosion of joy in Iran. I felt the transcendence of the role I was to play as mother of that child who, with the help of God, was to wear the imperial crown . . ."

He talks about being brought up in a warm family circle but has also made the grim calculation that he spent a total of only about two months of his life with his father. "There wasn't much quality time when we could sit together as a regular family round the dinner table, in privacy."

The crown prince, aged 19, was in Texas, training to be a pilot, when his father was declared "the blood-sucker of the century" and forced to flee Iran while portraits of him were burnt in the streets. His parents were pushed from pillar to post in a search for somewhere to settle. Many countries refused to take them in.

"By the time I saw my father again, he was in very poor spirits and bad health. We didn't really have a chance to speak. That made me realise how important it is to spend more time with my family."

Nevertheless, when he embarks on yet another trip, his eldest daughter starts to grumble. "I have to try to make some sense of it for her." Both Noor and her five-year-old sister, Iman, are proficient in three languages: French, English and Farsi. "We speak Farsi to them at home because we want to make sure they know their mother tongue."

It troubles him that his new "visibility factor" increases the danger from "those elements who are out there to take you off the face of the planet". He has been a marked man since 1979 when he was condemned by an Islamic court, along with his parents, for "waging war against Allah". Wherever he goes - even the anonymous London house of the friend where we meet - there is a bodyguard.

It is clear that, if ever given a chance, Pahlavi would avoid the mould of his father, whose combination of blinkered autocracy and personal weakness assured his downfall. Mistakes were made, he concedes, but not as gross as the ones under a theocracy. "Our country may not have had complete political freedom," he says, "but we did have social freedoms. We don't have that now. Our country has gone backwards. Economically, it is down the tubes."

As for a constitutional monarchy, he distances himself as delicately as possible while maintaining it is one of the options. "I introduce myself as someone representing that institution, if the people so choose. And if they don't, that's fine by me. The day there is the basis for a national referendum in Iran, the day people can vote freely at the polls, my mission is ended."

Does he hope for a son to continue the line? "Enough with the male-dominated society," he says. "I have my heir already. I hope my daughter wll be Queen of Iran one day - before America gets a woman president."


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