Thousands gathered in Tehran Monday to celebrate the anniversary of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy by burning American flags and chanting “Death to America,” despite seemingly good relations between President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Islamist students stormed the American embassy 34 year ago and held 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days. Diplomatic ties with Iran were severed, and hostility and distrust has colored the relationship between the U.S. and Iran for decades. All that changed when a more open-minded Rouhani took office this year.
Iran celebrates the takeover each year on Nov. 4 with a state-organized ceremony, according to AFP. The high turnout this year is due in part to hardline and conservative organizations calling for Iranian’s to respond to Rouhani’s friendliness towards Washington.
Activists showed up waving anti-American banners, burning American and Israeli flags, and chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” They carried effigies of Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A large percentage of activists are students, AFP reported.
Two thirds of Iran’s parliament said they would attend the ceremony, held in front of the “Den of Spies,” a U.S. compound repurposed into a museum showcasing American “crimes” against Iran.
Hardline ex-nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili gave a keynote speech defending the embassy takeover.
"The Iranian nation cried that the US embassy is home to espionage and sedition 34 years ago," Jalili said live on state television. "Today, friends of America admit to this fact and even protest it.”
Rouhani spoke with Obama for the first time over the phone after attending the UN General Assembly in New York in September. Rouhani was at the airport during the call, about to return home to Iran. The majority of Iranians who gathered to welcome him home in Tehran were supportive. One hardline protester, however, threw a shoe at Rouhani’s motorcade, but missed.