Iran marks anniversary of US Embassy takeover with angry words

Anti-US students chanted 'death to America' and predicted the fall of the 'great Satan' to mark the seizure 31 years ago of the US Embassy. Iran and Western powers are slated to resume nuclear talks later this month.

Vahid Salemi/AP
A head-to-toe veiled Iranian woman walks past a satirized drawing of the Statue of Liberty, painted on the wall of the former US Embassy in Tehran, on Nov. 4, in an annual state-backed rally, marking the anniversary of the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979.

Iran kept up its near-relentless anti-American rhetoric as it marked the anniversary on Thursday of the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979, just days before it is due to resume nuclear talks with Western powers.

Anti-US students chanted “death to America” and predicted the fall of the “great Satan,” the nation still officially most vilified by the Islamic Republic, during the annually staged event. Anti-Americanism has remained a pillar of the Islamic revolution since 52 diplomats were held hostage for 444 days.

Iranian officials have largely continued with the anti-US stance, despite several verbal and written overtures from President Obama to break the ice on three decades of mutual hostility.

The sentiment expressed in Iran throughout the anniversary – and uncertainty over the scope, quality, and even location of any upcoming talks – does not suggest a positive outcome. Also in doubt is American willingness to navigate the nuclear issue with Iran's current hard-line government.

“These [US overture] statements may seem soft, but in reality there is a cast iron fist underneath a velvet glove,” Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told students on the eve of the anniversary.

The embassy seizure “is the symbol of bravery and boldness of the young revolutionary generation in the face of the prestige of the United States. The takeover of the den of spies … shook the United States and forced America to its knees,” said Ayatollah Khamenei.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made frequent declarations that the liberal democracy and capitalist economies of the US and other Western powers have “failed." He demands a more equitable new world order framed by Iran and other growing powers.

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Both sides have said the “door remains open” to talks on a host of contentious issues, but Tehran has accused Washington of insincerity, while the United States last June orchestrated a fourth round of United Nations sanctions and imposed other measures against Iran over its nuclear program.

Few results from 'chest-thumping'

Former American hostage John Limbert, a Farsi-speaking diplomat and the State Department’s top official on Iran until August, said such posturing had not changed in decades.

“It is long past time that both sides awake to the reality that 30 years of chest-thumping has produced little beyond sore chests,” Mr. Limbert told the Tehran Bureau website. “Past efforts to move the relationship to something more productive, however, have foundered on misunderstandings, mistrust, and the assumption that anything the other side agrees to must be bad for us.”

Iranian negotiators have been invited to talks with major powers from Nov. 15 to 17. But Tehran has sent mixed messages, with some officials suggesting that the primary interest of all the others at the table – Iran’s continuing enrichment of uranium – will not be a topic for discussion.

American officials, likewise, are said to be preparing a revised offer to Iran to exchange a large portion of the country's homemade enriched uranium for foreign-made nuclear fuel that would be used in a research reactor in Tehran. That “offer” is reported to be much more demanding – and therefore probably much less appealing to Tehran – than a deal Iran rejected in October 2009.

Iran finally agreed to a similar deal negotiated with Turkey and Brazil last May. It stipulated that Iran would export 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, as per the October offer – but it was dismissed out of hand by Washington as not going far enough, because Iran had bolstered its stockpile of enriched uranium in the meantime.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said this week that that deal must be the cornerstone of new talks, after which “a time and location for talks will be agreed upon.”

But the hard-line Kayhan newspaper, the editor of which is an official representative of Ayatollah Khamenei, said that recent statements from the West only confirm “how intelligent Iran’s rejection” of the October 2009 deal was.

“One can only draw the conclusion that the West … had no other goal but stealing Iran’s nuclear material,” Kayhan editorialized. “Now that the true intentions of the West have become known, Iran must demand even stronger guarantees” before agreeing to any nuclear fuel swap.

'Hundreds of thousands' rallying for Iran; no sign of Green movement

Iranian media declared the anniversary of the embassy seizure the “Day of God.” State-run PressTV reminded viewers with every broadcast that the date was one of the biggest on the Iranian calendar, and “known” as the “National Day of Resistance Against the Global Arrogance.”

PressTV reported that “millions” across Iran took to the streets, and one PressTV correspondent – standing among a crowd of perhaps a few thousand outside the former embassy building – said that “hundreds of thousands” were there.

The head of Iran’s state broadcaster, Ezatollah Zarghami, was the main speaker at the rally. He said the US was afraid of Iran’s growing regional influence, and described how American media fawned over Mr. Ahmadinejad during every trip to the UN in New York.

“Obama has acted very weakly and badly when it comes to his foreign policy,” Mr. Zarghami said, as students held posters declaring their devotion to Khamenei.

There was no reported sign on Thursday of Iran’s opposition Green Movement, which a year ago mounted counterdemonstrations that led to street battles with riot police and pro-regime militias.

Such opposition street protests have not taken place in 2010, as the government has flooded the streets with security forces to prevent unrest at every important pro-regime event.

The opposition Jaras website on Thursday praised the US Embassy takeover in 1979 as fitting revenge for Washington’s previous support for the pro-West Shah. But it also reportedly warned Iran’s current leaders to “learn a lesson” about tyranny and the power of the popular will from the 1979 revolution, and to not “go farther down the path of selfishness and despotism.”

Speaking prior to the anniversary event, however, supreme leader Khamenei said the “sedition” of the previous year had only served Iran’s enemies: “The small group of people who chanted slogans against this anniversary last Nov. 4 were in reality trying to rebuild the prestige of the United States.”

Some signs were taken as positive, however. Washington on Wednesday announced that it now lists as a foreign terrorist organization the Sunni Jundallah – a group of anti-Iran ethnic Baluch militants who have staged a number of bloody attacks against civilians and soldiers in southeast Iran.

Foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said it was a “move in the right direction,” but repeated Tehran’s oft-stated claim that Jundallah is still supported by Washington. Fars News Agency spoke of the “duplicity” of the US regarding Jundallah.

And America was not the only Western target on the anniversary.

Iran also announced on Thursday that it had arrested a British-linked hit squad that it accused of assassinating five Iranians since 2008. PressTV showed guns, ammunition, identity documents, and portions of what it said were videotaped confessions of four operatives active in the ethnic Kurdish regions of Iraq and Iran. It claimed that the Kurdish Komala rebels had received orders and cash from a mastermind called Jalil Fattahi, based in the UK.

The British government denied any involvement. Iran last year accused Britain, the US and Israel of fomenting pro-democracy protests after the controversial June 2009 presidential election, in a bid to topple the regime.

“There is a long history of baseless Iranian allegations against the UK. This is just the latest,” the British government said in a statement. Britain, it said, “does not support or encourage terrorist activity in Iran, or anywhere else in the world.”

Still, on Thursday, eggs and tomatoes were thrown at the British Embassy in Tehran, and the Union Jack was torched. American flags were reportedly not burned at the anti-US rally, an event that in past years has seen the desecration of countless US flags.

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