In 1958, the shah of Iran divorced his second wife, Queen Soraya -- a woman whom he professed to love still -- because she could not bear him children. The following year, he married a stylish 21-year-old architecture student named Farah Diba. And the year after that, his new wife bore him his long-awaited heir, a son.So elated was her husband that he declared a two-day national holiday and a tax cut of 20 percent. Crown Prince Reza would have become the third ruling shah of the Pahlavi dynasty -- which was little more than a half-century old when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power, cloaked in the Islamic fundamentalism that was forceful enough to topple the Pahlavi regime. With the shah's reign abruptly ended, he was forced out of Iran, ill and confused, shunted from country to country, unwelcome in the United States and a host of other places -- a onetime ally turned untouchable. In July 1980, the shah of Iran died in exile in Egypt, where Anwar Sadat had given him refuge. And according to his wife, one of his last statements was this: "I commend the great Iranian people into the hands of the Crown Prince. God protect him. And this is my last wish." A few months later in Cairo, on his 20th birthday, the young crown prince sat at a marble-topped table in the Kubbeh Palace, where his father had spent his last months in exile. There the prince read a statement in Farsi and proclaimed himself Reza Shah II. A television crew and a photographer were the only journalists allowed to record the event. Otherwise, no one came. "In a way, I'm king-elect," says Reza Pahlavi, now 28 and living in Great Falls. He delivers this with a rueful chuckle, a reference to the fact that the shah, who is a constitutional monarch, must be approved by the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, before he can reign. It's an event that Pahlavi himself would hardly anticipate soon -- even as he travels around this country and Europe, stoking the resistance to Khomeini. In the past few years he has gradually become more visible in his campaign to offer himself as the leader to topple the Khomeini regime or at least serve as a lightning rod for the opposition. Pahlavi's aides refer to him as 'his majesty.' So did the dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University when the young shah spoke there in February to a gracious and sympathetic audience. Most everyone else calls him Reza Pahlavi. He is handsome in a baby-faced way, and when he breaks into a grin he looks much younger, more like the boy-man who announced in Kubbeh Palace that he was the shah. There was a marked contrast between the sober figure who delivered an earnest speech on the stage of Georgetown's Gaston Hall and the smiling, chatting guest of honor at the small reception for him afterward. He is an intense man who wears a Rolex watch, smokes continually through an interview and often goes off into speechlike explanations of his views on Iran that reveal at once a deep emotional commitment and a sometimes overbearing sense of his royal destiny. Once, as he talks on in an impassioned but windy manner and is interrupted by a new question, he holds up his hand to silence his interviewer. Occasionally, he seems to catch himself being too intense. "I think all of us Iranians are putting our lives, our time, our money, anything that we get, in this process. This is not a job -- " He pauses. "It's an adventure. No-o-o ..." he says, and laughs sheepishly. Friends and acquaintances describe him as approachable and down-to-earth. When Sharzad Semsar, one of the student organizers of his Georgetown speech, informally polled students afterward for their reactions, "a lot of them said that he just seemed too much of a nice guy to get back to power." Pahlavi has spent most of the past eight years in relative obscurity, leading the life of a rich, deposed royal: finishing college by correspondence at the University of Southern California, moving from Morocco to Paris and eventually to suburban Virginia, and marrying a young Iranian woman, Yasmine Etemad-Amini, now a 20-year-old college senior. But he has also lived in a suspended animation of the kind that pretenders to thrones must feel even while much of the world considers their pretensions laughable. He is the shah waiting for a country's acceptance. And now he is a political figure in the making, his own making, who defines his role as "a catalyst among all forces that can all come together for the purpose of establishing popular sovereignty in our country." Needless to say, his plans are a little vague. He wants to move back to Europe but he cannot predict when. However, he does see a timetable for change in Iran -- "realistically speaking, if everything goes our way, it should be a matter of two to three years maximum," he says. And unlike other pretenders, he insists that he doesn't care if he gets the throne back. "Let's understand one thing," he says, sitting in an aide's McLean home that doubles as an office and meeting place. "I'm not in this for monarchy. I'm in this for the freedom of my countrymen and for popular sovereignty." And not, he insists, for himself. "What do I have to gain personally?" he asks, almost in exasperation. "Do you think that I would like to sit here and go through the headaches of being a terrorist target, of having to work every day?" He remembers when he made the decision to proclaim himself shah: "1980. My father is dead. There's crisis in the country. A war breaks out in September. There are people in Iran who need moral support, who need strength, who need confidence, who need to have at least a very faint window of hope. I come in and say, 'Look, I had the choice as a 20-year-old to say the hell with this, I'm not a madman. I'm fairly set. I can have a decent life. I can be comfortable. What's my motive? My motive is, hey, wait a minute, I'm a nationalist, I want to serve my country. I cannot turn my back on my own countrymen. I'm here to serve them. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm here if you need me.' And that's what I want to do." The prevailing expert opinion: Pahlavi has good intentions but he hasn't got a chance. But why shouldn't he think he has a chance? After all, he was the infant whose birth was celebrated by an entire country. This was the boy whose mere presence could move some of his countrymen to tears. He is the man whose upbringing was geared toward his growing up to be the shah of Iran. "I think that I'm prepared for it," he says. "But the choice will be that of my countrymen. I'm telling them that my mission will end at the time that I've saved Iran from this mess ... Now, then, if they choose for me to continue in this role, I do so. And if not, I will just be a regular citizen in the country. There are tons of things that I could do." And what if the Iranian people don't want him to do anything? "Then I won't do anything," he says. But Pahlavi and his supporters confidently contend that there are many people inside and out of Iran who see him as a viable alternative. After a recent lunch with a group of foreign policy experts, Pahlavi was taking his leave when "an Iranian lady working in the kitchen rushed out, held him and started crying," says Sohrab Sobhani, a Georgetown graduate student and supporter of Pahlavi. "She said, 'You're the only hope we have.' " What kind of last hope is this man -- the Westernized son of a ruler reviled by his own people? Pahlavi contends that he has a network of contacts in Iran, which is not at all improbable. "There are tens of thousands of telephone calls every day between Iran and the outside world -- direct-dial," says Gary Sick, author and former National Security Council staffer who was the principal White House aide for Iran during the hostage crisis. "It is not a closed society." But Pahlavi may be getting a skewed reading. "I think he hears there's been a tremendous amount of support for him in the country," says Sick, "and I think that's exaggerated." It's not surprising that the young shah would share the Western world's revulsion at some of the Iranian regime's activities -- fanatic pronouncements of death to Westerners, and its alleged complicity in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Nor is it unexpected that Pahlavi the younger -- like many others -- lays at Khomeini's feet the ravaging of Iran economically, militarily and image-wise. "We used to be people who were able to travel outside in many countries -- they didn't even require visas," he says. "Iranian people were respected. All of a sudden they become animals. They become like lepers who are chased out." But for years, Iranians have accommodated themselves to the arbitrary exercise of power -- including the regime of the young Pahlavi's father and the hated Savak, the Iranian secret police. Observers predict that given the country's acceptance of its Shiite government, there's little likelihood that citizens would seek its violent overthrow in favor of a monarchy. Although he wants to see Khomeini toppled, Pahlavi sees as his own main order of business a more modest yet still difficult task -- unifying the several-million-strong exile community. "One of the problems is that none of the Iranian exile groups has been able to unite around a single person," says a Bush administration foreign policy expert on Iran. Sick describes Pahlavi as "a sensible man ... an attractive, intelligent individual," but adds, "I don't think he's succeeded in uniting all these exiles. Some are not monarchists. Some believe the revolution got off track but it was right to get rid of the shah. Some think of themselves as potential leaders." Marvin Zonis, a Middle East specialist and professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, says he believes Pahlavi could rally the exile community but that "unfortunately for the shah, the exile community is not going to determine the future of the country." And the young shah probably cannot mobilize the entire country, Zonis contends. "Could he build support ranging from people saying, 'Gee, wouldn't it be nice if the shah were in power' to those who say, 'We'll die to get him back'?" asks Zonis. "What I see him saying is, 'Let's keep ourselves organized, visible, and if everything works out people will turn to us.' Well, that's fine but that isn't what brought about a revolution." Of course, the irony is that Pahlavi has as much chance of being shah of Iran as Khomeini had of being the leader of Iran 15 years ago. "In our judgment he does not have a very strong following in Iran or a following that has much likelihood at all of playing a part in a post-Khomeini period," says the administration Iran expert. "Obviously the political situation is volatile and highly erratic. In two or three years I could read this article and think I've made a fool of myself." Pahlavi insists he's not pressing monarchy on the people, but he is definitely its advocate. He sees in monarchy a poetic continuity between the past and the present, a country today being one with its history. And the young Pahlavi's idea of monarchy is not of the policy-making kind. He's not advocating a return to the autocratic days of his father. But his halcyon views of the throne -- "monarchy has always been an umbrella that protected the country" -- belie the fact that many Iranians also identify the Pahlavi monarchy with corruption and brutality. Pahlavi, predictably, plays down his father's transgressions. "Now, if you want to go back to the past, of course, there was criticism, of course there were uncondonable acts, but that doesn't mean that people {who opposed the shah's regime} don't have a right to change their minds ... "Yes, there were cases of police brutality. And I don't condone it. But if the New York City police department is using electric shock guns to mistreat violators, then that's police brutality. Can you hold a president accountable? There are acts of violence everywhere and they should not be condoned. But to suggest that that was state policy in Iran -- to have torture -- that is not true." Like any good political candidate, he says he represents not the past but the future. "What I'm advocating today is what Iranian nationalists aspire to -- which is the restoration of the Iranian sovereign right to legislate on their own affairs. It's something that this regime does not allow them to have." He was born to be shah, and he knew it. "From the time that my child consciousness realized what the hell was going on -- " he says with a laugh, " 'Hey, wait a minute, you're not just an average kid on the street. People look up to you with a certain expectation.' And I realized that somehow my life is tied to whatever happens in Iran." By the time he was a teen-ager, he was making official visits, learning to be a pilot like his father (the prince started flying at age 12) and being drilled in matters of protocol, all in addition to attending school -- the Reza Pahlavi School. Classmates included royal children as well as the offspring of well-to-do commoners. "If you didn't know he was the crown prince, you would think he was a normal, above-average Iranian," says Nader Motamedy, a friend since childhood and a money manager at Morgan Stanley in New York. They went to movies as unobtrusively as they could. And Pahlavi says he frequented favorite coffee shops so often that the owners would fetch his usual when they saw his car coming. Pahlavi's long-standing interest in photography and filmmaking dates back to high school, when he made videos and films for fun as well as school. He was an excellent soccer player who balked when he saw his coach surreptitiously instructing an opposing team player to go easy on Pahlavi. "He said, 'Look, forget what the coach said. It's a fair game. Hit me,' " remembers Sohrab Sobhani, who has just earned a PhD in international relations from Georgetown. He traveled extensively -- "just to get to know the world" -- as well as through Iran. And he exhibits a rather quaint sensibility about his relationship with the Iranian people. "I would try to go directly into the realm out there and see what the country was really all about ... I eat breakfast, I jump in a jeep, I drive into one of the villages, go through, talk to a few people, see what's there, if they have electricity yet, if they have plumbing yet." He thrived on it. "What would you do back home?" he says. "Sit down and gaze at the television all day? No, I like to go out there. I was very open to people. They love me a lot." He came to this country in 1978 for Air Force training in Lubbock, Tex. When he finished in March 1979, his family was already two months into its wandering exile and he joined them, traveling from Morocco to the Bahamas to Mexico. Without an official itinerary, the Pahlavis were suddenly gathered as a unit. "It was the first time that we ever spent time together as a family," says the young shah. "It was time to have for ourselves, but not the way we would have liked it." His father was physically ailing, they lived under tight security, and they all grappled with anger and frustration. "How could you feel? You feel a sense of betrayal." In the Bahamas they had a beach to stroll; in Mexico, there were occasional jeep rides into the countryside. Otherwise, he remembers feeling closeted. "It was really like being in a fortress," Pahlavi says of life in general. And they were preoccupied with the country that they left behind. "If you go to any Iranian family right now, the topic is Iran, Iran, Iran, what is happening in the country. It's the same topic no matter where you are," Pahlavi says. "And we were definitely not an exception." In September 1979, while his father's exile continued, Pahlavi went off to start his freshman year at Williams College. "The best thing I could do for my father, to give him relief, was to say, 'Don't worry about me, I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm accepting my responsibilities.' And part of that was to go to school and study." But he was with his father when he died, and after that Pahlavi did interrupt his studies to make his own political decisions. A year later he moved to Morocco by himself and arranged his correspondence study with the University of Southern California, from which he earned a bachelor's degree in political science in 1985. "One of the primary reasons why my father decided to leave the country was to leave me a chance for the future," Pahlavi says. "He decided, 'I cannot stay here by force and turn the guns on my own people.' He knew that eventually people would realize what the revolution is ... He knew deep down inside that people would realize the consequences." Says his friend Motamedy, "When he declared himself the shah, he was basically on his own. He was away from his family, he spent a few years of his life in Morocco, trying to develop a network, concentrate. One thing he was always telling me -- he never wanted to do something he wasn't sure about ... A lot of people wanted him to be more aggressive. He only wanted to do that when he felt he could get the job done. He didn't just want to risk people's lives in Iran." His young supporters want him to be more aggressive, more visible, more like a typical political candidate. "I told him that he should get out, press more flesh," says Sobhani. Pahlavi's contemporary followers are an enthusiastic, politically sophisticated, well-educated (far better than the shah) group who straddle the Iranian upper classes and American society. Pahlavi's inner circle includes exiled academics and former government officials, a generation older than Pahlavi, who fled the country at the turn of the shah's fate and have long considered the young shah "his majesty." One of his closest aides, Ahmad Oveyssi, has been his companion and bodyguard since Pahlavi was a small boy. The young would-be political aides express frustration at not getting closer to the tiny circle of confidants that surround Pahlavi and fret that it is those aides who keep the shah a more distant, less compelling figure than he could be. "We would just have a better feeling of what the public is expecting," says 20-year-old Georgetown student Semsar. "People are not going to kill themselves for him the way people did for Khomeini," says Sobhani, adding boldly, "But after 10 years of suffering {in Iran}, Reza Pahlavi can bank on the fact that he can be the loving savior of that nation." However, he will have to work at it, contends Sobhani: "Khomeini is a street talker. Reza Pahlavi is not a street talker. Reza needs to do that. He needs to talk their language." In 1985, Sobhani suggested to the young shah that they organize a rally to commemorate Iran's constitution. Seven thousand people marched from the White House to the steps of the Capitol. Pahlavi did not come. "That was one of our biggest criticisms of him," Sobhani said. "He's not out enough." In the past couple of years, Pahlavi has attempted to change that. In September 1986 he managed an 11-minute clandestine television broadcast into Iran. In fact, it's been reported that the CIA helped by supplying a transmitter -- but it's been further noted that Pahlavi may not have known about it. He denies any involvement with the CIA. "I don't want to deal with the CIA," he says. "I wouldn't touch them with a ten-foot pole. I don't think I want to be in any way associated with any government." But he won't rule out taking assistance at some point from a government. "Of course, we will use anything that we could get, but without in any way being subservient." The young shah has stepped up an international speaking tour that this year alone has taken him abroad and from the West Coast to the East Coast here. He makes public appearances with a phalanx of bodyguards, vigilant in the wake of reports he says he has received that his life is in danger. Pahlavi met his wife in an airport. Four years ago, a friend was fetching Pahlavi -- coming into the Washington area on business -- as well as another friend, a young Iranian woman who was living with her family in the San Francisco area. "I must say very early on that I detected many signs that really struck me," he recalls. They courted between Switzerland -- he was living in Europe at the time -- and California. And they married a year after their meeting. She was 17 and graduating from high school. He was 25. "You know, I don't think it goes by age, it goes by maturity," he says. They moved to the Washington area for his political work and she enrolled at George Washington University. Her family has moved here as well. He doesn't like to reveal where they live -- but friends know; he's had parties at his house. "I don't stay too long in one area for security reasons," he says. The house has been described as nothing short of palatial. He dismisses such talk as "a lot of publicity." The house, which he characterizes as "just a suitable place," supposedly has a disco in the basement. "You know," he says, "if you have a room, a corner where you have a stereo, and you might have a floor or something, immediately they love to say, 'Hey, you have here a big apparatus,' but that's not true." Money is a tired subject for the young shah and a never-ending issue about the Pahlavi family. Even his father acknowledged being wealthy. The question is, Is it millions or billions? "People who are under the impression that I have billions -- that all is absolutely untrue," says Pahlavi. "It's sheer sensation." Pahlavi devotes himself full time to politicking. His 19-year-old sister is an undergraduate at Brown University; his 23-year-old brother and 26-year-old sister are pursuing graduate degrees at Columbia University. The young shah, who has no job, has been financially supported over the past seven years, he says, by friends and family. Now, he's begun to fund-raise in earnest and estimates that in the past two months he's raised $1 million. But like any politician, even a pretender who wants to regain his country somehow, he must win not just hearts and minds but pocketbooks as well. Says the would-be shah, "Propaganda is not cheap these days."