Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asserted slogan is ‘backed by reason and wisdom’ on eve of 1979 hostage crisis anniversary, which is celebrated by Iranian establishment.
From school assemblies to Friday prayers and city billboards, it is a slogan still ubiquitous in Iran: “Death to America!”
And Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has made it clear that the refrain will not leave the Islamic republic’s political lexicon any time soon.
But Khamenei, who has faced criticism from hardliners at home over the landmark nuclear agreement with the US, also attempted to draw a line between the American people and their administration.
“It goes without saying that the slogan does not mean death to the American nation; this slogan means death to the US’s policies, death to arrogance,” he said.
Khamenei was speaking ahead of the anniversary on Wednesday of the start of the 1979 hostage crisis, which began when angry students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and took 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days.
The Iranian establishment celebrates the incident every year, holding anti-western rallies in big cities. Hollywood’s dramatisation of the hostage crisis a few years ago with the film Argo particularly infurated Iranians.
But 36 years after the Islamic revolution, “Death to America!” has lost much of its potency inside the country, reduced to a rote phrase of state propaganda which few Iranians take seriously.
The nuclear accord struck between Iran and world’s six major powers, including the US and Britain, in July raised hopes that Tehran and Washington would finally leave their troubled past behind.
The Iranian revolutionary student who designed the hostage-taking episode and a senior American taken hostage told the Guardian in August that they both advocated a peaceful settlement to Iran’s nuclear dossier and believed it was time for a thaw in bilateral relations.
Khamenei is anxious to show that he is not appeasing the “Great Satan” and has been adamant that the nuclear deal does not mean that relations between Tehran and Washingtonwill be normalised.
In recent months, he has repeatedly said that the US is not to be trusted and remains hostile towards Iran. His comments indicate that despite direct contacts at international talks over Iran’s nuclear programme and Syria, the two countries are unlikely to re-establish diplomatic relations any time soon, analysts say.
In his speech to students in Tehran on Tuesday, the ayatollah said that Iranian politicians would be naive to think that US has changed its overall approach to Iran. Although Khamenei did not name any officials, it is believed that he is concerned with views expressed in Iran that appear to be conciliatory towards the US.
“The truth is that the US’s objectives regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran have not changed at all,” he said, according to Iranian agencies. “And they would not spare a moment if they could destroy the Islamic Republic; but they can’t.”
“In recent years, some have attempted, either deliberately … or naively,” Khamenei said, “to overlook the [Iranian] nation’s repeated experience [of US hostility], to portray a whitewashed image of the US and to pretend that if the Americans used to be an enemy of Iran one day, they have now stopped plotting [against Iran].” He said this has not changed.
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