Death to America Chants in Tehran as Hardliners Rally

Tens of thousands of Iranian demonstrators held one of the biggest anti-American rallies in years outside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, as hardliners stepped up opposition to President Hassan Rouhani’s outreach to President Barack Obama.

Demonstrators waved banners attacking the U.S. and burned American flags during the annual state-sponsored event termed the “Day of National Confrontation Against World Imperialism.” The gatherings mark the anniversary of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy, referred to in Iran as a “nest of spies” and come after conservative politicians and Revolutionary Guards leaders called for a show of force.

Former top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili gave a keynote address at the rally, saying a confrontation between Iran and the U.S. is a struggle between good and evil, according to a translation by the state-run Press TV.

Two months ago, Rouhani and Obama spoke by phone, the first direct contact between presidents since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Rouhani’s campaign to end Iran’s diplomatic isolation and revoke economic sanctions imposed over the country’s nuclear program have also sparked a debate on whether it’s still appropriate to use the 20th century revolutionary slogan of “Death to America.”

Hardliners have defended the phrase and attacked Rouhani’s telephone conversation with Obama as a diplomatic blunder.

Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami encouraged the use of the chant and said at Tehran University on Nov. 1 that the Islamic Republic would continue talks with the U.S. while continuing to use the slogan.

Iran’s armed forces Chief of Staff General Hassan Firouzabadi defended the chant as something aimed at the top 1 percent of the American people and “Zionist Americans ruling the world’s unjust system,” and not the American people, Fars news agency reported.

In 1979, a group of revolutionary Iranian university students took over the U.S. Embassy and kept 52 diplomats and staff hostage, with government support, for 444 days.

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