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Iranian hard-liners in show of force for US embassy takeover anniversary

Thousands have taken to the streets of Tehran and other cities to mark the 34th anniversary of the takeover of the US embassy. The high turnout was seen as a repudiation of the president’s overtures to the West.

This year's rallies to mark the November 4, 1979 seizure of the US embassy were the largest of its kind in years, and followed a call by state television for Iranians to turn out in high numbers for the event.

Demonstrators at the main rally outside of the former US embassy in the capital shouted anti-Israel and anti-US slogans such as "death to America." Some also set fire to US and Israeli flags.

"Thirty-four years ago, our nation showed the realities to the world that American embassies are a place of espionage and hatching plots," Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili told the crowd in Tehran.

"Today, friends of America admit to this fact and even protest it," he added in an apparent reference to the row between Europe and Washington over alleged spying by the US National Security Agency.

The higher-than-usual turnout is being seen as a reaction from conservatives to efforts by moderate President Hassan Rouhani to reach out to the United States on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

News of a 15-minute telephone conversation between Rouhani and US President Barack Obama, as well as a face-to-face meeting between the two countries's top diplomats, raised eyebrows among Iranian conservatives.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reacted with a statement describing some of Rouhani's actions in New York in September as "not appropriate."

Cautious support for nuclear talks

At the same time, though, he has voiced support for the president's efforts to use negotiations with the West over its nuclear program to get sanctions against Iran lifted.

Even on this specific issue, though, he is also walking a fine line. On Sunday, Khamenei was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying that Iranian diplomats were “on a difficult mission and nobody should weaken those who are on assignment." But he also reiterated his suspicions about dealing with the Americans and their allies, warning against trusting “an enemy who smiles.”

The next round of negotiations is scheduled for Thursday in Geneva.

Iran has been under economic sanctions for years over Western fears that it is using its nuclear program to try to develop atomic weapons. Tehran has repeatedly insisted that the program is meant for peaceful purposes only.

Diplomatic ties between Washington and Tehran were cut following the seizure of the US embassy in 1979, which led to 52 diplomats being held hostage for a period of 444 days.

pfd/dr (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)