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In Iran, Hard-Liners Mark Embassy Anniversary With Anti-U.S. Rally


Thirty-four years ago today, Iranian followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. They took 52 Americans hostage, and held them captive for more than a year. And today, as has happened on this day ever since, thousands of Iranian hard-liners again took to the streets for what they call Death to America Day.

This year, however, the annual display of hostility coincides with a delicate diplomatic outreach by Iran's government. Iran wants the international community to ease sanctions related to its nuclear program.

Here's NPR's Peter Kenyon.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Iran and the U.S. may be entering a new phase of diplomatic engagement, but hard-liners on both sides are having none of it. Today, Iranian conservatives turned out in force to remind the world, and their own leadership, that decades of enmity cannot be overcome by a new president with a more pragmatic approach.


KENYON: American flags and effigies of Uncle Sam were burnt; caricatures of President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were hoisted; and the ubiquitous yellow placards read: "Down with America" in English, although the Farsi chants are usually translated by conservatives as Death to America.


KENYON: The rallies were a reminder that in Tehran, rapprochement with America remains a major political hazard. Some analysts saw the day's message aimed as much at the Iranian political class as anywhere else. Hard-liners have chafed at the rapid pace of engagement from Rouhani's administration, complaining most loudly when Rouhani took a telephone call from President Obama in September.

Rouhani has said that a slogan such as "Death to America" isn't really necessary, but Iranian MP Alaeddin Boroujerdi told Iran's English-language Press TV that it will remain necessary until Washington changes its approach to dealing with Tehran.

ALAEDDIN BOROUJERDI: (Through translator) The U.S. hostile policies have not changed towards Iran. Even Washington, without making any change in its policy, has imposed rounds of unilateral sanctions against Tehran. This causes our people not to stop chanting a slogan against the U.S. This slogan is just a symbol of the Iranian people's hatred towards Washington.

KENYON: In a matter of days, Rouhani's nuclear negotiators will be in Geneva, pushing for more progress on an agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy. Fixing the economy is a vital mandate for Rouhani, and even Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, a man steeped in suspicion and hatred for the U.S., said in a speech Sunday that the nuclear team is off-limits to attack.

SUPREME LEADER ALI KHAMENEI: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: In an address to students, Khamenei vilified the U.S. but said, quote, "Nobody is entitled to insult our negotiators as compromisers." The speech is seen as the latest sign that when it comes to the nuclear issue, Rouhani has latitude to compromise. But hard-liners will be on alert should the new government take that same pragmatic approach to other issues.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.