The Prince and the Dissident: Behind an Iranian in Washington Promoting Democracy and Nonviolence Is a Network That Includes Neocons-And the Shah's Son

By Rozen, Laura; Heer, Jeet | The American Prospect, June 2005 | Go to article overview

The Prince and the Dissident: Behind an Iranian in Washington Promoting Democracy and Nonviolence Is a Network That Includes Neocons-And the Shah's Son


Rozen, Laura, Heer, Jeet, The American Prospect


AS A FORMER AIDE-DE-CAMP TO the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei and one of the founders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, Mohsen Sazegara was once at the radical, sharply anti-American vanguard of that country's Islamic revolution. Operating from Khomenei's exile headquarters in Paris during the 1970s, the U.S.-educated student revolutionary was so close to the theocrats plotting to overthrow the American-backed shah that he flew into Tehran with Khomenei to launch the 1979 revolution--and later served in several high-level political posts in the Islamic revolutionary government.

More than two decades later, Sazegara--now 50 years old and wizened from two harsh terms in Iranian prisons--has returned to the United States with a very different agenda.

Sazegara has taken up residence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he hopes to mobilize his fellow exiles and U.S. policy-makers in support of a new initiative to peacefully topple the regime in Tehran.

In recent months, he and his supporters have been calling for a nationwide referendum on Iran's constitution, timed to coincide with Iran's presidential elections in mid-June. Referendum organizers have gathered 36,000 signatures on their Web site, www.60000000.com (a reference to the more than 60 million Iranians living under the mullahs' oppressive rule).

Among the referendum campaign's most prominent backers, ironically enough, is Reza Pahlavi, son of the late shah whom Sazegara helped topple. He is now a resident of the Washington, D.C., suburbs, where he maintains his "secretariat." Pahlavi, 44, has his own group of followers who are seeking to restore the dynasty founded by his grandfather (a goal neither endorsed nor renounced by the putative heir).

A nexus of monarchist Iranian exiles and American neoconservatives, the Pahlavi network was cultivated in the early '80s by U.S. officials who wanted to explore options for overturning the Tehran regime. The aftermath of the Iran-Contra scandal froze the network for almost two decades. But the network surfaced again with the arrival of George W. Bush, as neocons called for regime change. In 2002, Pahlavi himself authored Wields of Change: The Future of Democracy in Iran, which advocated peaceful, Serbian-style revolution in his homeland. (His publisher, interestingly enough, was Regnery, now famed for its connection with the Swift Boat Vets and POWs for Truth.)

THE NETWORK BRIEFLY GATHERED force following the fall of Baghdad. With protests sweeping Tehran in the summer of 2003, neocons urged action. But their momentum slowed with the regime's crackdown on protesters and then faltered after revelations of Pentagon contacts with Manucher Ghorbanifar, the notorious Iran-Contra arms dealer.

Yet recent moves in Congress to promote the "liberation" of Iran prove the continued vitality of the idea and its persistent sponsors. Over the course of nearly three decades, the same players continue to form the same coalition, pushing the same idea: a U.S.-sponsored campaign to destabilize the mullahs.

Having suddenly dropped into Washington's continuing debate over policy toward Iran, Sazegara faces decisions that could make or break his opposition movement. His mere presence at the Washington Institute, a think tank known for advocating pro-Israeli policy and the targeting of Iran, adds a new layer of potential controversy. But the embrace of his well-connected new friends has also proved very helpful.

Owing to his past ties to the Revolutionary Guard, which runs Iranian military and intelligence operations, he was initially refused permission to visit the United States. The Washington Institute's top Iran specialist, Patrick Clawson, lobbied hard for months to secure Sazegara's extended visa.

How did the former Revolutionary Guard connect with Washington's wealth, Republican-oriented, and largely monarchist Iranian exile community? …

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