Tens of thousands of demonstrators packed the streets Monday outside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran in the biggest anti-American rally in years, a show of support for hard-line opponents of President Hassan Rouhani‘s historic outreach to Washington.
Such protests occur every year outside the former embassy compound to mark the anniversary of the 1979 embassy takeover following the Islamic Revolution. But the latest demonstration is the largest in years after calls by groups such as the powerful Revolutionary Guard for a major showing, including chants of “death to America” that some of Rouhani’s backers have urged halted.
The crowds also send a message to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who cautiously has backed Rouhani’s overtures to the U.S. and efforts to end the impasse with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Opponents of thawing relations with the U.S. say they will not back down, opening the prospect of deeper internal rifts and tensions that could put pressure on Khamenei to reconsider his backing of Rouhani’s groundbreaking exchanges with the U.S.
In September, Rouhani accepted from a call from U.S. President Barack Obama following the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York, where U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with Iran’s foreign minister. Ties between the two countries were severed after the embassy siege, which began a hostage crisis with 52 people held for 444 days.
Protesters also stomped on images of Obama and the U.S. flag. Others carried well-known banners reading “We trample America under our feet” and “The U.S. is the Great Satan.” One image showed Obama in a wrestling uniform with Star of David earrings, symbolizing Israel.