The son of Iran’s last monarch is appealing to U.S. President Donald Trump to distinguish between the Iranian people and their Islamist rulers as the president considers whether to impose new restrictions on immigration to the United States.
In an exclusive studio interview with VOA’s Persian Service, Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi said Iranians are sensitive to being “confused” with an Iranian government long accused by Washington of sponsoring global terrorism.
“Nothing hurts us more as Iranians — every time the name of Iran comes up, they say, Iran — terrorism.’ It’s not Iran and Iranians, it’s the regime,” said Pahlavi, who leads the Iran National Council for Free Elections opposition group. “Many Iranians [also] have been victims of the regime … that’s why I think it’s important to make a clear distinction [between them] … to make sure you don’t paint everyone with the same brush.”
A victim of terrorism
Iran has long denied being a state sponsor of terrorism, saying instead it is a victim of terrorism. Trump included Iran in a group of seven nations whose citizens he temporarily banned from entering the U.S. in a January 27 executive order, citing his predecessor’s administration identifying those nations as sources of terrorist activity.
A federal court suspended Trump’s order February 3 in response to legal challenges from critics who called it an unconstitutional ban on Muslim immigration. Trump’s administration rejects that characterization, pointing to dozens of Muslim-majority nations whose citizens were not affected by the measure. Trump told reporters Friday he might issue a new immigration order as early as Monday or Tuesday, saying such a move could be a faster way to protect the country’s security than waiting to defend his original order in court.
Speaking to VOA Persian in Washington Thursday, Pahlavi said he realizes that any country has a right to protect itself by deciding how much immigration to accept and how closely to vet immigrants.
Sensitivity is key
“In this day and age, when we are facing so many threats — that is understandable,” he said. But he said the Trump administration should show sensitivity in explaining its immigration policy, to help Iranians understand the reasons for any restriction without alienating them.
“So a lot of [the sensitivity] goes into the way it is presented and the language,” he said.
Pahlavi also said the Trump administration’s immigration policy should send a message that the U.S. respects the Iranian people’s abilities and values.
“It is an asset for a country to have such [Iranian] immigrants, such a diaspora,” he said, “because one day, if the [political] situation in Iran changes, these people will be the best ambassadors to connect [Iran] with the country they are currently living in.”
The Iranian crown prince expressed his concerns about Trump’s January 27 travel ban on Iranians in a January 31 letter to the president.
In the letter, he also urged the U.S. to play a “pivotal role” in supporting what he called the Iranian people’s “quest for liberty and justice” in their homeland. Pahlavi has long called for free elections in Iran to bring about a transition from clerical rule to a democratic and secular government that he believes would bring peace to the region.