Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has tried to reassure a skeptical American public that when crowds in Tehran chant “Death to America!” they don’t mean it personally.
In an interview with the CBS show 60 Minutes to be broadcast Sunday in the United States, the Iranian president said the famous Friday ritual is a reaction to previous Washington policy decisions that hurt Iran.
In April, US President Barack Obama’s administration signed a deal with Rouhani’s government to release Iran from many of the economic sanctions harming its economy in return for tight controls on its nuclear program.
But many in the United States are still convinced that Iran, which is ultimately led not by Rouhani but by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, remains bent on their country’s destruction.
In a July speech, Khanemei hailed the Iranian masses for demanding the destruction of Israel and America, and said he hoped that God would answer their prayers. A clip published by Khamenei on social media earlier this week warned the US it would be defeated in any war with Iran.
In the fierce domestic American debate over the deal, opponents have often cited the regular appearance of chanting anti-American crowds as evidence of Tehran’s true intentions.
But Rouhani, seen as a moderate reformer by the standards of the Islamic republic, attempted to reassure his CBS interviewer Steve Kroft and the wider audience.
“This slogan that is chanted is not a slogan against the American people. Our people respect the American people,” he insisted, in an extract from the interview released Friday.
“The Iranian people are not looking for war with any country,” he said.
“But at the same time the policies of the United States have been against the national interests of Iranian people, it’s understandable that people will demonstrate sensitivity to this issue.
“When the people rose up against the Shah, the United States aggressively supported the Shah until the last moments. In the eight-year war with Iraq, the Americans supported Saddam.
“People will not forget these things. We cannot forget the past, but at the same time our gaze must be towards the future.”
Iran rose up against its pro-Western monarch Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979. After the revolt, Iranian radical students took 52 US embassy workers hostage and held them for more than a year.
During the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988 the United States remained close to the aggressor, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, despite the deaths of up to a million Iranians, many through chemical weapon attacks.