Thousands of Iranians have gathered on Tehran streets for the anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the US embassy, chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”, and burning American and Israeli flags.
The protests on Thursday marked an embassy takeover which triggered a 444-day hostage crisis and the break in diplomatic relations that continues to this day.
The government-organised commemorations, long a venue for voicing anti-Western sentiment, typically draws angry crowds each year.
Last year, authorities cancelled the event due to the still-raging coronavirus pandemic but on Thursday, state TV said 800 cities across Iran staged demonstrations.
General Hossein Salami, chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), denounced in a lengthy speech to the crowds what he described as American aggression in the region over the past decades, declaring that the “children of this nation will stand bravely against any power that wants to damage their interests”.
Long-simmering tensions between the United States and Iran have flared again in recent months after Iran’s election of ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi, which brought hardliners to power across every branch of government and stalled Tehran’s negotiations with world powers to revive its now-tattered 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran has ramped up nuclear escalations at the same time, enriching small quantities of uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels and interfering with international inspections of its nuclear sites.
After months of delays, the European Union, Iran and the US announced on Wednesday that indirect talks to resuscitate the deal would resume on November 29 in Vienna. In comments broadcast on Thursday on state TV, Raisi reiterated that Iran wants “result-oriented” nuclear talks and would “stand against excessive demands which could damage our nation’s interests”.
In 2018, then-President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the landmark accord and imposed crushing sanctions, an escalation that set off a shadow war between Iran and the West that has targeted commercial shipping and roiled crucial Middle Eastern waterways. The seas have witnessed a series of hijackings and explosions, including a fatal drone attack earlier this year that the US blamed on Iran.
On Wednesday, the eve of the 42nd anniversary of the embassy seizure, American officials said Iran had seized a Vietnamese-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman last month and still holds the vessel in its port.
Iran, meanwhile, offered conflicting accounts of what happened, claiming that IRGC commandos had thwarted a US seizure of a tanker carrying Iranian oil in the Gulf of Oman and freed the vessel. It aired dramatic footage on state television but did not further explain the incident.
In his speech to the crowds outside the building that once housed the US embassy, Salami lauded the IRGC for its assault, accusing the Americans of trying “to take our oil” and supporting “pirates”.
“We are serious in defending our homeland,” he declared.
Gathered Iranians waved flags and raised portraits of General Qassem Soleimani, the powerful commander killed in early January 2020 in an American drone attack in Baghdad ordered by Trump.
A large American flag was spread on the street so protesters could stamp on it.
The commemoration marks the dramatic day when hardline Iranian student demonstrators overran guards and pushed into the embassy compound on November 4, 1979, enraged that President Jimmy Carter had allowed Iran’s exiled and fatally ill Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to receive cancer treatment in the US.
A few embassy staffers fled and hid in the home of the Canadian ambassador to Iran before escaping the country with the help of the CIA, a story recounted in the 2012 film Argo. Ultimately, as Carter left office, all 52 captive American diplomats were freed.