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At Tehran rally, little interest in U.S. election

As Iranians mark the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, few are much concerned about who wins the U.S. presidential race.

November 02, 2012|By Ramin Mostaghim and Alexandra Sandels, Los Angeles Times
  • At a government-organized rally marking the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, Iranian girls hold posters of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
At a government-organized rally marking the takeover of the U.S. Embassy… (Vahid Salemi, Associated…)

TEHRAN — Iran may be a major foreign policy issue in U.S. presidential politics, but few attendees at an Iranian government-organized rally Friday denouncing the United States seemed concerned about the outcome of the upcoming American election.

"I don't care who becomes the next president in the U.S.," said Hasan Mousavi, 27, a shoe store owner who sports a bushy black beard. "The sanctions will not be lifted no matter who is president."

Like many Iranians, Mousavi says he has felt the sting of the tough economic sanctions that the Obama administration and the European Union have slapped on his nation because of its controversial nuclear program. The U.S and its allies suspect that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear bomb, despite Tehran's insistence that its nuclear activities are solely for peaceful purposes.

Many Iranians blame the sanctions for a steep slide of the national currency in recent weeks. The value of the rial has plummeted and commensurately rising prices prompted rare street protests a month ago.

The shoe store proprietor was speaking Friday at an official rally marking the 33rd anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, an event commemorated annually as a signature achievement. Thousands of students and demonstrators gathered outside the former embassy building chanting, "Death to USA," and "Death to Israel," in a heavily choreographed event.

Each year, Iran stages a similar rally recalling the Nov. 4, 1979, storming of the U.S. Embassy. Islamic militants enraged by U.S. support of the deposed Iranian monarchy held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days in a humiliating episode that may have contributed to President Carter's defeat by Republican Ronald Reagan in the November 1980 election.

"I am happy to chant slogans against the U.S.," said Zahra Forouzan, 37, a psychology student dressed in a full-length black cloak and waving a banner reading, "Nov. 4 is the day of the enemy's defeat."

Anti-U.S. graffiti is now spray-painted on the walls of the former embassy structure. A shop selling revolutionary and Islamic books and trinkets is situated adjacent to the southern gate, near a Greek Orthodox church.

In the United States, the box-office hit film "Argo" — based on the rescue of six U.S. diplomats in Tehran who avoided becoming hostages — has spurred new interest in the embassy takeover. But the film has not appeared in Iran yet, even in a pirated version.

Hundreds of schoolchildren were bused to Friday's rally along with their teachers. They stepped into an enthusiastic crowd in which one demonstrator carried a placard depicting President Obama as a faithful lap dog of Israel.

"Today is the day of invading Satan's castle," roared a cheerleader, a chant echoed by students brought to the event.

More than three decades after the embassy takeover, relations between Iran and the U.S. are icier than ever. Neither the U.S. nor Israel ruled out military action if deemed necessary to halt Iran from producing an atom bomb. Tehran, meanwhile, has blamed the two countries for a string of assassinations of Iranian scientists and a cyber-warfare campaign targeting its nuclear infrastructure.

Despite the bravado evident at the rally, the prospect of a war clearly worries many Iranians, even some of those chanting the slogans.

"I don't like war and I don't think the American people want war either," said Amir Aliyari, a smiling teenage boy in a blue school uniform.

Away from the official demonstration, views of the U.S. presidential race varied. Some moderates and middle-class people interviewed said they preferred Obama, reasoning that he was more likely to seek a diplomatic solution to the nuclear impasse.

"He prefers to exhaust diplomacy and does not think of war as an easy and handy option," said Paria Hazin, 31, an English-language teacher at a private school. "[Mitt] Romney is more prone to wage war against Iran. And war is the last thing I wish to happen."

Mohammed Shogi, a 30-year-old recently married handyman, agreed that the incumbent was more amenable to a negotiated settlement.

"He is halfway through the diplomatic process with Iran, and he will continue the last half way to the end," Shogi said while relaxing with his wife in a coffee shop on the outskirts of Tehran. "But if Romney takes over, he has to start from scratch, and that is bad for us Iranians."

Special correspondents Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Sandels from Beirut. Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.

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