In 1978, in the midst of popular protests in Iran against the Shah, I was a diplomat in the international law division of the Iranian Foreign Ministry. I also was part of a secret committee that fomented dissent against the Shah's regime at the Ministry. Some time later, I became a ministry representative at an underground council tasked with coordinating strikes by civic employees and national organizations (the BBC called me a "rebel diplomat" in an interview).
I remember grinning inside when my senior "colleagues" at the ministry did their utmost to convince their Western counterparts that the Shah's regime would survive this crisis as it had others. Witnessing the broadening dissent within the Foreign Ministry, I knew that the situation in other parts of the regime was no better and that the Shah's reign would soon crumble.
It did not take too long -- the Shah's regime became history on February 11, 1979.
Now, 31 years later, current Iranian diplomats are sensing danger and are abandoning the ruling mullahs' sinking ship. This is an important signal for the West to realize that the mullahs, like the Shah, are taking their last breaths.
The diplomatic apparatus was one of the first state organs to experience a significant overhaul after the mullahs came to power. The mullahs knew they needed completely obedient elements in vital diplomatic posts to communicate their message to the outside world instead of the demands of people who had unseated the Shah in search of democracy and human rights in Iran. Members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and intelligence agents were sent to embassies to keep a close eye on employees. And, inspections by emissaries of the mullahs ensured a certain degree of "devotion" among embassy officials.
At the time, I was Iran's ambassador to Sweden and later Norway. Eventually, after three years of expressing opposition to the mullahs' policies, I parted ways with the regime in protest of its brutal suppression and human rights violations, and joined the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a political coalition comprising various opposition forces.
For Tehran, this was an intolerable sin.
Two other ambassadors resigned and joined the NCRI. They were Professor Kazem Rajavi, the first post-revolution envoy to the European headquarters of the United Nations, and Mohammad-Hossein Naghdi, the Iranian envoy in Italy. Both were later assassinated in Geneva and Rome, respectively, by the mullahs' terrorist death squads. I, along with my son, spent a year in hiding in Norway under protection.
While leverage and suppression controlled Iran's diplomatic delegations for years, that state of affairs has changed in recent months.
Several weeks ago, after 25 years, the regime's consul in Oslo resigned in protest to the wave of suppression and in solidarity with the popular uprising in Iran. This brave decision was not an isolated incident. Several other regime diplomats are reported to have resigned in recent weeks in places such as Germany, France, and Japan.
The theocracy established by Khomeini in Iran after February 11, 1979, was mounted on the principle of velayat-e faqih, or absolute clerical rule. Although such a concentration of political, military and spiritual power has been deplored by the Iranian people, it has served as the regime's focal point, allowing it to withstand challenges and crises.
But, since June, this focal point has been dealt a heavy and unprecedented blow, thanks to the courage of the Iranian people. The consequences of widespread social upheavals, political rifts at the top, and the regime's lack of religious legitimacy have all combined to create an extraordinary crisis for the ruling mullahs.
The regime's reliance on unveiled suppression, including the killing of protestors, widespread arbitrary arrests, and inhumane treatment of political prisoners, such as rape, has not forestalled the growing wave of Iranian protests.
The movement now envelops the entire country. During the latest round of protests on February 11, many people in the streets chanted "death to Khamenei" (the Supreme Leader) and "down with the principle of velayat-e faqih," and refused to flee the scene despite the regime's brutal response. It now is clear that the people's demands will not be fully met except by the ouster of the ruling mullahs.
No one wants to see the international community interfering in Iran's internal affairs. But, both from moral and geopolitical standpoints, the West should realize that it must stand with the Iranian people and their demands to end the clerical regime and establish a democratic order, if it wants to prevent the mullahs from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The Iranian Resistance has called on all diplomats still cooperating with the regime to join hands with the people. Both the Iranian people and the Iranian Resistance consider it a duty to support these diplomats and have the capability to provide that backing in practice. As far as the West is concerned, in addition to imposing comprehensive sanctions against the mullahs and fully backing the demands of protestors, it could support and protect the diplomats who have defected from the regime, or would like to, including helping their families secure visas to leave Iran.
As President Obama acknowledged after a long delay, the brave people of Iran have decided to rise up in search of their "universal rights" and to free Iran's "great and enduring civilization" from the clutches of the mullahs.
I sincerely hope that other diplomats still working with the regime leave its ranks and help raise awareness around the world about the ruling regime's crimes by public declarations about it. The international community can help them make that choice by supporting all diplomats who muster such courage.
Perviz Khazaii - Former Ambassador of Iran in Sweden and Norway and the representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran in Nordic countries