Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of the last shah of Iran, is stepping up his efforts for a shift to secular democracy in his home country, urging that a leadership change in Tehran is the only path toward stability in the Middle East and beyond.

"The world has to come to the conclusion that so long as the Islamic regime exists in Iran, multiple problems for the world...will not disappear," said Pahlavi, 63, who was crown prince of Iran until the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in a recent interview with Kyodo News.

To begin to address the problems, such as Iran's support for militant groups in the Middle East, its suppression of human rights, and the nuclear threat it poses, Pahlavi said Western countries must drastically change their approach toward Tehran.

Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of the last shah of Iran, speaks to Kyodo News in Washington on Feb. 28, 2024. (Kyodo)

"So as far as the West is concerned, the only option is to ultimately understand that the solution is a change of regime, not a behavior change from the regime," he said.

"That has been the most basic flaw in Western analysis and expectations from the Iranian regime" as other players on the world stage such as Russia and China advance their own interests, he added.

Arguing that it is not realistic to force the regime to come to the negotiating table, Pahlavi voiced support for a dual-track approach to put "maximum pressure" on Iran's leaders while providing "maximum support" for the country's citizens to give them a chance to transform the current situation.

Pahlavi, who has been in exile since the revolution and currently lives near Washington, said that people in Iran are "so fed up with the system, they cannot sit back and wait another few years."

The assistance he has advocated includes providing internet access and financing labor strikes. He said such efforts require collaboration between key governments in the Western world and in the region.

"I've always said that my red line is any kind of foreign intervention, but we need foreign support," he said.

More than 45 years ago, Iran was a regional leader in terms of economic prosperity and modernity, he said, describing it as a country once slated to become the "Japan of the Middle East" but that instead turned into "the North Korea" of the region.

During his efforts to unite the opposition both within and beyond Iran, and while traveling from the United States to other countries to meet with officials and experts, his personal security "has always been an issue," he said, and being on the regime's "hit list is obviously something that is no secret."

But to carry out his "patriotic duty" to Iran, the last heir apparent of the Iranian monarchy said hiding is not an option. He has come to accept security risks as a fact of life, although the more influential he becomes, the more the danger increases.

Pahlavi is one of the most popular critics of the regime, but he has insisted that he is not putting himself forward as the future leader of the country.

"I made it very clear from the beginning that the only objective that I have is to see a smooth transition from the current regime to an ultimate secular democratic system in the future," he said. "I'm not doing it for any position for myself."

"But I recognize the fact that people have a lot of faith and trust in me, and as such I'm using this political capital to manage this transition for them, to lead this process and make sure that we have the most transparent and possible democratic process to determine the future of the nation," Pahlavi said.

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