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25 years later, Iranians mark embassy takeover

Students in Tehran held anti-American protests on the 25th anniversary of the siege of the U.S. Embassy there, while a high-level official blamed Washington for continued strains between the United States and Iran.
Iranian women stand behind a burning American flag in Tehran
Iranian women stand behind a burning American flag in a demonstration marking the 25th anniversary of the taking of the U.S. embassy during the 1979 Islamic revolution.Morteza Nikoubazl / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Students burned American flags and effigies of President Bush on Wednesday to mark the 25th anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, while a top Iranian official accused Washington of undermining his country’s goodwill gestures.

To chants of “Death to America,” about 3,000 students gathered outside the former U.S. Embassy to mark the Nov. 4, 1979, storming of the building by militant students who held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. By the Iranian calendar, the anniversary of the siege fell on Wednesday.

The demonstration, which broke up peacefully in about three hours after students prayed together, coincided with news that Bush had won re-election to a second term.

Official: U.S. spoiled chances of renewed ties
Also Wednesday, Hossein Mousavian, a top security official, blamed successive U.S. administrations for the continued strained relations.

“Iran has showed a lot of goodwill, but America has reneged on its promises each time, effectively spoiling any chance of a rapprochement,” Mousavian told The Associated Press.

The United States broke diplomatic relations with Iran after the embassy takeover, and they have not been restored.

Today, the two countries are at odds over Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran maintains it is geared solely for peaceful energy purposes, but the United States has been driving international concern that Iran is secretly trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Mousavian said about 50 world leaders conveyed messages to former President Hashemi Rafsanjani in the 1980s that Washington would show “unbelievable goodwill” if Iran used its influence to release Western hostages held in Lebanon at that time. Iran has long been accused of backing the militants who kidnapped foreigners during Lebanon’s civil war.

“We showed goodwill and helped release the hostages, but America reneged on its promises,” he said.

“We openly supported the Afghan Northern Alliance against the Taliban. Without our support, America would have not been able to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan,” Mousavian added.

Bush ‘axis’ statement worsens ties
Instead of rewarding Iran, he complained, Bush included Iran in his “axis of evil,” further worsening ties.

Iran also accuses the CIA of helping topple the elected government of Mohammad Mosaddiq in the 1950s and blames the United States for supporting Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Demonstrators said Wednesday the 1979 embassy takeover was justified, maintaining in a statement there was no other option “given various acts of interference in Iran’s internal affairs by the U.S.”

President Mohammad Khatami has characterized the embassy seizure as “the outcome of the wrath” of a nation protesting decades of interference in Iran’s internal affairs.

Relations began to improve in 1998 when Khatami called for “a crack in the wall of mistrust” and proposed cultural exchanges. But they worsened after Bush’s “axis of evil” designation lumped Iran with prewar Iraq and North Korea.