Iran's President Marks Revolution With Call For Negotiations

Iran's President Marks Revolution With Call For Negotiations

9:58pm Feb 11, 2014
Iranians hold pictures of Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during the 35th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran, on Tuesday.
Iranians hold pictures of Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during the 35th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran, on Tuesday.
Maryam Rahmanian / UPI/Landov
  • Iranians hold pictures of Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during the 35th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran, on Tuesday.

    Iranians hold pictures of Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during the 35th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran, on Tuesday.

    Maryam Rahmanian / UPI/Landov

  • Iranian girls get their faces painted in front of a backdrop of blown-up news images from the 1979 uprising against the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran, in Tehran, on Tuesday.

    Iranian girls get their faces painted in front of a backdrop of blown-up news images from the 1979 uprising against the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran, in Tehran, on Tuesday.

    Peter Kenyon / NPR

Iran on Tuesday marked the 35th anniversary of its Islamic revolution, a day when the country's religious conservatives and military hard-liners take center stage, and calls of "Death to America" echo across the country.

In Tehran's Azadi Square, one man waving an orange "Down with the USA" flag condemned the U.S. and Israel, and then, perhaps not sure of the nationality of the reporter standing nearby, threw in England and France for good measure.

But Iranians say this year's rally had a different feel, especially when compared to those under the previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. On Tuesday, President Hassan Rouhani, who was elected last summer, paid tribute to the revolution that brought Iran "victory over dictatorship," toppling the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech during an annual rally commemorating the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution at the Azadi Square in Tehran, on Tuesday. Rouhani called for "respectful, constructive" nuclear talks with world powers — a departure from the hard line of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech during an annual rally commemorating the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution at the Azadi Square in Tehran, on Tuesday. Rouhani called for "respectful, constructive" nuclear talks with world powers — a departure from the hard line of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Vahid Salemi/AP

But Rouhani's main focus was on the daily lives of Iranians, promising increased trade, a stabilized currency, better medical care and more. In order to achieve much of that, the Iranian president is counting on a lifting of sanctions, which will require successful nuclear talks.

With negotiations with six world powers beginning in a week, Rouhani walked a fine rhetorical line, appeasing hard-liners not by threatening an attack, but by ridiculing American officials who say the military option against Iran is still on the table.

"No one should think that Iran can be moved by threats," Rouhani said. "I want to say to anyone who sees military options on their table, they need to change their glasses."

Rouhani said the pursuit of a peaceful nuclear program is Iran's right and will never be given up. But he also told the largely conservative crowd that negotiating with others, including the reflexively hated U.S., is the path to a better Iran.

"Iran is committed to respectful, constructive negotiations," Rouhani said. "I hope the other side is too when the talks get under way in the coming days."

For the older generation, this is a time to remember the days when the shah flew out of the country and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini flew in, and the Persian monarchy gave way to an Islamic revolutionary state.

Iranian girls get their faces painted in front of a backdrop of blown-up news images from the 1979 uprising against the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran, in Tehran, on Tuesday.

Iranian girls get their faces painted in front of a backdrop of blown-up news images from the 1979 uprising against the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran, in Tehran, on Tuesday.

Peter Kenyon/NPR

Hossam Rostami, age 67, is old enough to remember life under the shah and the Savak, his brutal secret police force.

"There were lots of homeless and poor people, and if you expressed your thoughts you'd be in jail," Rostami recalls. "If you talked to an American dog, the Savak would kill you."

But despite losing a cousin in the uprising against the shah, Rostami doesn't miss a beat when asked about Rouhani's new policy of outreach and compromise.

Absolutely, he says, negotiating with the country that backed the shah is the right thing for Iran to do.

"We want to be friends with everybody," he said.

In some ways, the upcoming nuclear talks present a microcosm of the conflicted feelings swirling around Iran these days. An announcer in Azadi Square commemorated some of Iran's most recent martyrs: nuclear scientists gunned down by unknown assassins.

And yet, even on this generally bombastic holiday, support for nuclear diplomacy shared the stage with revolutionary fervor.

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Transcript

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You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Iranians turned out for mass rallies today to mark the 35th anniversary of the country's Islamic Revolution. A boisterous crowd gathered in Tehran to hear President Hassan Rouhani deliver a far more moderate speech than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Tehran, Rouhani stressed the importance of negotiations with the U.S. and other nations that Iran considers enemies.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: This is the day Iran's religious conservatives and military hardliners take center stage, and calls of death to America echo across the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

KENYON: In Tehran's Azadi Square, one man waving an orange down with the USA flag condemned the U.S. and Israel, and then, perhaps not sure of the nationality of the reporter standing nearby, threw in England and France for good measure. But Iranians say this year's rally had a different feel, it effectively marked President Rouhani's first major address to the nation and the outside world.

He did pay tribute to the revolution that brought Iran victory over dictatorship, toppling the U.S.-backed Shah in 1979. But his main focus was on the daily lives of Iranians, promising increased trade, a stabilized currency, better medical care and more. In order to achieve much of that, the Rouhani is counting on a lifting of sanctions, which will require successful nuclear talks.

With negotiations with six world powers beginning in a week, Rouhani walked a fine rhetorical line, appeasing hard-liners, not by threatening an attack, but by ridiculing American officials who say the military option against Iran is still on the table.

PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI: (Through interpreter) No one should think that Iran can be moved by threats. I want to say to anyone who sees military options on their table, they need to change their glasses.

KENYON: Rouhani said the pursuit of a peaceful nuclear program is Iran's right and will never be given up. But he also told the largely conservative crowd that negotiating with others, including the reflexively hated U.S., is the path to a better Iran.

ROUHANI: (Through interpreter) Iran is committed to respectful, constructive negotiations. I hope the other side is, too, when the talks get under way in the coming days.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KENYON: For the older generation, this is a time to remember the heady days when the long-hated shah flew out of the country and Imam Ruhollah Khomeini flew in, and the Persian monarchy gave way to an Islamic revolutionary state. Sixty-seven year old Hossam Rostami is old enough to remember life under the shah and the Savak, his brutal secret police force.

HOSSAM ROSTAMI: (Through interpreter) There were lots of homeless and poor people, and if you expressed your thoughts you'd be in jail. If you talked to an American dog, the Savak would kill you.

KENYON: But despite losing a cousin in the uprising against the shah, Rostami doesn't miss a beat when asked about Rouhani's new policy of outreach and compromise. Absolutely, he says, negotiating with the country that backed the shah is the right thing for Iran to do. We want to be friends with everybody, he says.

ROSTAMI: (Speaking foreign language)

KENYON: In some ways, the upcoming nuclear talks present a microcosm of the conflicted feelings swirling around Iran these days. This announcer in Azadi Square is commemorating some of Iran's most recent martyrs: nuclear scientists gunned down by unknown assassins.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking foreign language)

KENYON: And yet, even on this generally bombastic holiday, support for nuclear diplomacy is sharing the stage with revolutionary fervor. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Tehran. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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