By Jay Solomon
Reza Pahlavi, the eldest son of Iran’s last monarch, called for a direct dialogue between U.S. and Iran’s democratic opposition amid signs that President Donald Trump intends to significantly harden Washington’s position towards Tehran.
“We say, ‘Yes,’ if they want to have a dialogue,” said Mr. Pahlavi, who heads a political movement called the Iran National Council for Free Elections, in an interview in Washington on Wednesday. “It’s about time you start talking to voices outside the regime.”
The Obama administration reached a landmark nuclear agreement with Iran’s Islamist government in 2015 that resulted in Iran scaling back its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most international sanctions.
But Mr. Pahlavi, who supported the deal, and other Iranian opposition leaders, have been critical of what they said was former President Barack Obama’s unwillingness to promote democratic forces in Iran.
Millions of Iranians protested in 2009 against what they believed was the fraudulent re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. Obama muted U.S. criticism of the vote, concerned that U.S. involvement would allow Tehran’s government to demonize the protesters as Western tools.
Mr. Pahlavi said Wednesday the Trump administration should directly engage Iranian opposition leaders. He said, ultimately, relations between Iran and the West will only improve with the removal of Tehran’s theocratic government.
“We need regime change in Iran to get rid of this problem,” said Mr. Pahlavi.
The Trump administration last week placed Iran “on notice” and said it would aggressively challenge Tehran for its recent ballistic missile tests and its support for militant groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The U.S. Treasury on Friday also sanctioned 25 Iranian-linked companies and individuals.
Some top Republicans have called for Mr. Trump to appoint a special envoy to the Iranian opposition, viewing it as another way to pressure Tehran. A White House official said Wednesday no decision had been made on this issue.
Iran’s opposition is split among royalists, left-wing groups and youth and student movements that have emerged in recent years. Mr. Pahlavi’s father, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown by supporters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979. The younger Pahlavi, 56 years old, was training at a U.S. Air Force base in Texas at the time and has lived in exile ever since.