November 4, 2013 4:20 pm

Anti-US protests muted as Iran’s regime curbs hardliners

Thousands of protesters gathered in Tehran on Monday in what has become an annual ritual to mark the anniversary of the takeover of the US embassy more than three decades ago.

As in the past, demonstrators included students and members of the Basij militia, the voluntary arm of the Revolutionary Guards, who were bussed in to attend the ceremony marking the 1979 siege of the embassy – known as “the den of espionage” – and the subsequent taking hostage of US diplomats. The siege and its aftermath are known in Iran as the “second revolution” after the Islamic revolution of the same year.

But Monday’s commemoration was relatively muted. Although the protesters waved flags and chanted “down with the USA” and “down with Israel”, there were only sporadic instances of the stars and stripes being set alight or stamped on.

This year’s anniversary coincides with President Hassan Rouhani’s new push for moderation at home and abroad, including efforts to ease sanctions and alleviate the country’s economic woes through talks with the US.

These are frowned on by hardliners opposed to any deal with Washington over the country’s nuclear programme. The day before the embassy protest, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, warned hardliners against undermining efforts by Iran’s negotiators, saying he “seriously and strongly” supported Mr Rouhani’s officials in their nuclear drive although he was not “optimistic that talks would bring the fruits the Iranian nation expects”.

Analysts in Iran believe the supreme leader has been containing hardline opposition to Mr Rouhani’s efforts by throwing his weight behind the government’s foreign policy.

“No one should call the negotiators compromisers [with the US], they are all our children and children of the revolution,” he said. “[They] have been assigned with a difficult mission and no one should weaken an official who is fulfilling a task,” he added.

Saeed Jalili, a hardliner who was formerly the country’s lead nuclear negotiator, and a rival candidate to Mr Rouhani in the presidential election last June, addressed demonstrators at the US embassy gates on Monday.

Mr Jalili had previously insisted on “resistance” in Iran’s interaction with world powers over the nuclear programme, but on Monday he urged Iranians of “every political persuasion” to stay “united” because “all efforts of the enemy were aimed at turning our unity . . . into domestic discord”.

“[The enemy] must know that Iranian nation unanimously . . . supports the system and the [nuclear] negotiating team,” he said.

Demonstrators at the rally also said they supported the government’s moves on the nuclear talks.

Hossein, a 22-year-old student at Tehran University, said that he “trusted” the nuclear team and the government because “as the leader said, they are sons of Iranian nation”. He added: “I do not trust the Americans because they imposed sanctions against Iran to deprive us of our inalienable nuclear rights.”

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