Iran hardliners mark U.S. embassy raid with fresh warning
Thousands of Iranians rallied to celebrate the anniversary of the 1979 hostage-taking at the U.S. embassy on Wednesday, as hardliners cited Western “infiltration” following a landmark nuclear deal with world powers.
President Hassan Rouhani, however, in remarks highlighting division between moderates and hardliners, criticised the arrest of at least two journalists, the latest in a series of detentions also including dissident writers and artists.
“We should not arrest people without reason, making up cases against them and say they are a part of an infiltration network,” Rouhani told a cabinet meeting.
Demonstrators gathered in front of the abandoned U.S. Embassy in Tehran chanting “death to America” and telling Iran’s foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator, Mohammad Javad Zarif, “Don’t trust the Americans.”
The U.S. embassy was sacked by students in the early days of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The ensuing U.S. hostage crisis lasted 444 days and Washington and Tehran have yet to restore diplomatic ties.
Some protesters dragged a coffin marked “Obama” through the street while others carrying long balloons representing Iran’s latest ballistic missile, which was tested in October in defiance of a United Nations ban.
The yearly commemoration was the first since the Islamic Republic reached an agreement with six world powers on July 14 that imposed strict limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for a removal of sanctions that have isolated the Islamic Republic and hobbled its economy.
While moderate President Rouhani is keen to normalise relations with the West after the deal, supporters of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei used this year’s rallies across the country to argue the historic agreement would not lead to any rapprochement between Tehran and Washington.
“Western countries, especially the United States, are trying to take advantage of the situation in Iran after the nuclear deal to normalise relations with Tehran and infiltrate the country,” Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) said in a statement published on the Fars news agency on Tuesday.
The dispute between Rouhani and hardliners appeared to escalate on Wednesday over the arrest of at least two journalists two days ago.
Iranian authorities have also recently arrested an American-Lebanese man who they said was linked to the U.S. military and a U.S.-Iranian businessman while he was visiting family in Iran.
A member of the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization said on Tuesday the arrest of an unspecified number of journalists and online activists was part of a security operation to destroy “an infiltration network related to Western countries”.
“They were trying to save the U.S. image and make society ready for the official presence of the Americans in Iran … This process we designed and funded by American spy agencies,” the man, identified only as Asef, told state TV by phone.
Hamid Rasaei, a hardline Iranian MP, was quoted in the demonstrations by Fars as saying “we managed to capture the U.S. embassy in the early years of the Revolution but there are still espionage dens in our newspapers.”