State Dept. on Iran’s ‘Death to America’ Chants: ‘Like Any Country, There’s Heated Political Rhetoric'

Patrick Goodenough | November 4, 2016 | 4:10am EDT
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Iranians take part in the ‘National Day of Fight against Global Arrogance’ – the commemoration of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. (Photo: Tasnim/Naser Golnazari)

( – State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Thursday the administration does not regard the slogan “Death to America” as official Iranian policy, asserting that, “like any country, there’s heated political rhetoric that comes out.”

Toner was asked to comment on this week’s annual remembrance in Iran of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Mass marches were held across the country to mark the seizure, which led to 52 Americans being held hostage for 444 days.

Flags were burned, banners carried anti-U.S. messages, and the familiar “Death to America” (marg bar Amrika) slogans were chanted. Iranian media explained that the commemoration of the seizure of the “den of spies” is known officially as National Day of Fight against Global Arrogance.

A reporter asked Toner whether that behavior was “in keeping with the kind of relationship that you had hoped to promote, or improve, at least, in the wake of the nuclear agreement” which came into effect last January.

“This day certainly brings out the overhyped rhetoric on the part of many in the Iranian government,” he replied. “We don’t necessarily want to engage in all the various statements that are made on a day like today.”

Toner went on to say that “there’s a certain political environment in Iran.”

“Like any country, there’s heated political rhetoric that comes out,” he added. “And I’m just not going to respond to every instance of that in this case.”

Toner also said the administration does not consider “Death to America” to be Iranian policy.

“What I would say is we continue to see Iranian behavior in the region that is, frankly, not positive, that is unconstructive,” he added, citing Iran’s involvement in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

“As much as we can engage constructively Iran on any of those issues, we’re going to do so. But we’re mindful of the fact that its behavior hasn’t changed across the board just because” the nuclear agreement was reached.

The embassy takeover occurred on Nov. 4, 1979 – the 13th day of the Persian month of Aban, which this year fell on Thursday.

During the day’s events, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told an audience of thousands of students that, “Today, in any part of the world when a nation stands up against a tyrant government, its first slogan is ‘Death to the U.S.’”

Khamenei also described Americans as “dishonest, unreliable, deceptive, back stabbers.”

According to the Tasnim state news agency, a statement read out at nationwide rallies condemned U.S. “policies against Muslims.”

“By recognizing the nature of the [global] arrogance and witnessing the endless crimes of the Great Satan … the vigilant nation of Iran still regards the U.S. as the number one enemy of humanity,” the statement said.

It also warned that any attempt to extend a hand of friendship to the U.S. amounted to “a betrayal of Islam, the noble ideals of the Islamic Revolution, the Iranian nation, and the blood of martyrs.”

For his part, President Hasan Rouhani told a meeting of the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution that the day symbolized the fight against despotism and colonialism.

Toner said the day was an “emotionally charged and politically charged” one.

“I don’t want to judge comments necessarily made in the environment of today’s anniversary.”

Asked whether the U.S. would like to see that type of rhetoric stop, Toner said “of course, we’d like to see the – no one likes to see this kind of hyper-charged rhetoric on the part of any government anywhere, and anti-American sentiments expressed.”

“But again, we’re not going to base our whole relationship going forward based on – or base our relationship going forward on these kind of heated political remarks …”


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