In the shadow of war-torn Afghanistan, a country that has seen a violent revolution of its own is undergoing quiet, but potentially no-less-consequential changes.
And while U.S. Marines won't be setting up bases there, Iran — former enemy of America, holder of hostages — may ultimately be influenced most by a man living not in Tehran, but in the serenity of suburban Maryland.
Trained as a fighter pilot and groomed to be heir to Iran's peacock throne, the son of the former shah, Reza Pahlavi, is poised, for the first time since his father lost power in 1978, to be the voice of growing dissatisfaction in the country of his birth.
In a recent interview with FOXNews.com, Pahlavi laid out the statistics that may translate to a mandate for change.
"Last year more than 273,000 young people fled the country. That tells you how gloomy the picture of the country is." At the heart of the dissatisfaction: High unemployment, high poverty and political infighting that this week stalled a bill before Iran's Guardian Council to increase desperately needed foreign investment.
Pahlavi, in spite of his long absence, hasn't allowed distance and time to dull his sense of patriotism. "As a country we don't lack natural or human resources. What is sorely needed is proper management, clean management, uncorrupt management that provides for accountability and for people to be able to freely elect their own candidates as opposed to what we have today."
It was corruption and a crackdown on opposition voices during his father's rule that caused Iran's constitutional monarchy to topple — allowing conservative clerics to seize power and institute a hard-line Islamic state.
Unlike Afghanistan, which had been cut off from the rest of the world by the Taliban, Iran today is exposed to Western influences, from music to television to Internet access. So if the young people of Iran are looking for change, and 50 million of the country's 70 million citizens are under 30, why not a royal with his own Web site to lead it?
Pahlavi says he has no desire to become a monarch himself. But he's increasingly visible on the lecture circuit, sounding like a politician for the 21st century.
Pahlavi sees himself as a catalyst who can bring various factions together under one banner of democracy for Iran.
"I've been an advocate of secularism and democracy as the content of a future government, with the final form to be determined by the people in a free election," he said. "I believe this is [a] doable process. I don't think we should look at this campaign as one where we can take the current regime down with guns and weapons. By choking the economic lifeline to this system, you can take it down and I think people are ready for this."
Pahlavi has been espousing this message with more frequency given the pro-democratic, pro-American climate in Iran following Sept. 11.
Within days of the attacks, Iran's youth gathered at various locations around the country to show their solidarity with the American people. And earlier this month, tens of thousands of men and women in several cities around the country, took part in pro-American, anti-government demonstrations.
Those demonstrators may well determine the outcome of the ongoing tug-of-war between elected moderates and the untouchable conservatives.
"People are genuinely fed up with five years and four successive elections, this so-called campaign of reform and moderation that did not translate into anything," Pahlavi says of the current government headed by President Mohammed Khatami. "This has led people to realize there is an inherent problem with the system, and the only way we can go beyond this is to implement a democratic system."
Five years ago, an unprecedented 69 percent of the electorate voted for Khatami, who ran as a reformist and defeated the favorite of the conservative mullahs, parliamentary speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri.
Khatami's victory was the result of a major groundswell, led in great part by the students and the young. But since his victory, Khatami has made little progress.
"People are now chanting 'gozar, or beyond Khatami,' in the streets of Iran, and that's quite telling," says Pahlavi. "I just think there is a limit to how many times people are willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt."
The major impediment to Khatami's success has been Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khameini, who controls the judiciary and military branches of the government and who has engaged Khatami in an often fierce and violent struggle for the soul of Iran.
"As long as Khameini is sitting there with the omnipotent final say, there is no way you can have any form of accountability," says Pahlavi.
For Pahlavi, the more than one million college students who are organized into unions and represent the most organized and coherent constituencies for democracy in Iran are the key to whatever movement he mobilizes. But that movement must be brought forward in a way that isn't perceived as being overly Westernized.
"We should not confuse the Iranian aspiration for modernity and paint that and twist it into Westernization for West-toxiation," says Pahlavi. "That was the argument that the clerics made — who had reason at the time to oppose that process of modernity.
"We have a golden opportunity today, with the backdrop of Sept. 11, and with what is happening in Afghanistan, to shift the attention of the world to Iran," Pahlavi says. "Iranians are ready to move and they've sent a signal.
"Now all we need is for the undivided attention and the full-hearted support of key countries around the world, including the United States."