Iran Marks U.S. Embassy Storming as Deal Leaves Rivalry Intact

  • Thousands join annual rallies across Islamic Republic
  • Ayatollah Khamenei has ruled out broader ties with Washington

Iran held rallies to mark the 36th anniversary of the storming of the U.S. embassy on Wednesday, the latest reminder that July’s landmark nuclear deal has done little to reduce enmity between the Islamic Republic’s top rulers and their longtime foe.

In downtown Tehran, around 2,000 people gathered in Taleghani Avenue, where the building that once housed the U.S. embassy is located. University students, school children and government workers, some bused in from outside the capital, held placards emblazoned with “Down with U.S.A.” and chanted “Death to America.”

“Economically, if they want to invest here that’s a different matter,” said Reza Mohseni, a 43-year-old who said he attends the rallies every year. “But you cannot trust the Americans, ever, and we mustn’t allow them to try to influence us.”

That’s a message that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeated in the months following the July 14 accord with world powers that curbs Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. Iran is set to return to global oil and financial markets next year, and has for the first time joined international talks on finding a way to end Syria’s civil war, but is ruling out a broader rapprochement.

Hostages Held

The protests are held every Nov. 4 to mark the day in 1979 a group of Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy demanding the extradition of the deposed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. They seized dozens of hostages, holding 52 for more than 14 months.

“There has been no change in the U.S. objectives about the Islamic Republic of Iran, and if the Americans were able to destroy the Islamic Republic, they would not hesitate for a moment,” Khamenei said in a speech on the eve of the rallies.

“The object of the slogan ‘Death to America’ isn’t the American people,” he said, according to Iran’s state broadcaster. “This slogan means death to arrogance and death to the policies of America. This slogan is firmly supportive of Iran.”

While Iran’s ruling clerics often rail against the U.S., each year thousands of Iranians leave to join American universities. Most of the Iranian diplomats who negotiated the nuclear accord over nearly two years of talks are graduates of U.S. colleges. The deal was officially adopted on Oct. 18, and Iranian officials say sanctions on Iran could be lifted by early January.

In a park a block away from the Tehran rally, architecture student Setareh, 21, said the rhetoric and slogans were irrelevant to her life.

“This isn’t important for me at all,” she said. The nuclear deal hasn’t “fundamentally changed anything in the relationship between Iran and the U.S.. They’ll both go on like this.”

Parliament Polls

President Hassan Rouhani’s policy of engagement with the West has faced opposition from conservative factions from the very beginning, and the tussle is intensifying ahead of parliamentary elections in February. Khamenei, who has sought to balance the interests of both sides, only fully endorsed the nuclear pact late last month while warning against backsliding on removing sanctions.

Ties with the U.S. have also been strained by this year’s trial of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, a dual U.S.-Iranian national, on spying charges. State-run Iranian media reported on Tuesday that a visiting Lebanese businessman, Nizar Zakka, was taken into custody in September, accusing him of having “deep links” with U.S. intelligence.

Ismael Asgari, a 79-year-old retired carpenter who has lived around the corner from the former embassy his entire life, said hostility toward America would remain for some. “Even with the nuclear deal, the Americans are very sly and cunning,” he said. “They’ll never stop being that way.”

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