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World / Middle East & Africa Print article | Email
Iranian monarchist exiles seek pact with US
By Guy Dinmore in Washington and Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran
Published: May 8 2003 19:21 | Last Updated: May 8 2003 19:21

United by their desire for regime change in Iran and encouraged by the overthrow of the Iraqi regime, exiled Iranian monarchists are developing an alliance in Washington with influential neo-conservatives as well as Pentagon officials and Israeli lobby groups.

Analysts say supporters of Reza Pahlavi, the Virginia-based son of the last Shah of Iran, see a role model in Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress who is backed by powerful figures in the Pentagon as a future leader in Baghdad committed to a secular, pro-western democracy.

Mr Pahlavi and Mr Chalabi share similar backers in Washington, but the exiled heir to the Peacock Throne is at a far earlier stage in terms of winning funding from the Bush administration and influencing policy towards Iran, one of several areas where the Pentagon and State Department are fiercely divided.

The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank that hosted an Iran conference this week, is home to several analysts pushing both the Pahlavi cause and Mr Chalabi.

Michael Ledeen of AEI wrote recently that Mr Pahlavi was the suitable leader for the peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy, describing him as "widely admired inside Iran, despite his refreshing lack of avidity for power or wealth".

Reuel Marc Gerecht, who advocates threatening the clerics in Tehran by military means, says nostalgia for the Shah's son has grown inside Iran.

"The neo-cons are working very hard to get an Iranian group to front what they are doing in Iran," said one politician who asked not to be named.

"They are working hard to put Iran on the Bush agenda before he focuses completely on the economy ahead of the [2004] presidential election."

Like Mr Chalabi, the exiled prince has courted support from Israeli lobby groups in Washington, such as the rightwing Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs whose board he has addressed.

In some ruling circles in Israel there is a strong sense of nostalgia for the days before the 1979 Islamic revolution when Israel and the Shah of Iran enjoyed a close alliance.

In Congress, the monarchists have also found an audience. Draft legislation sponsored by Sam Brownback, Republican senator for Kansas, would channel tens of millions of dollars to royalist television and radio stations that beam calls for insurrection from Los Angeles to audiences in Iran.

Mr Pahlavi, who has advocated a referendum in Iran on the return of the monarchy and says he is committed to democracy, arouses mixed passions in his homeland as well as among the exiled community concentrated in California.

More important for the moment is the support he enjoys inside the office of Douglas Feith, under- secretary of defence for policy, according to administration insiders.

Nonetheless, Mr Feith recently blocked a proposal from within his office to draw up a blacklist of non-US companies doing business with Iran, with the intention of barring them from US government contracts in Iraq.

However, reports that Pentagon officials were compiling a blacklist sent a shudder through big European and Asian companies. Executives said some were now reconsidering investment plans in Iran in the light of new opportunities presented by Iraq and the heightened risk of doing business with Tehran, a member of President George W. Bush's "axis of evil".

The perception among "hawks" within the US administration of Iran's moderate president, Mohammad Khatami, as a bogus and failed reformist was reinforced on Thursday by reports that hardline clerics had blocked his parliamentary legislation intended to stop the judiciary from staging political trials.

The veto by the Guardian Council followed the rejection of a bill to stop stringent vetting of candidates in parliamentary elections.

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