November 16, 2014 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1132

Khamenei Camp In Indirect Response To Obama Letter, On Anniversary Of U.S. Embassy Takeover: 'America Is Still The Great Satan And The No. 1 Enemy' Of Iran

November 16, 2014 | By A. Savyon, Yossi Mansharof, and E. Kharrazi*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1132

On November 6, 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that in a fourth letter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, U.S. President Obama had urged him to reach an agreement on the nuclear issue by November 24, 2014, while stressing the two countries' joint interest in fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria.[1] The Khamenei camp's indirect response to this letter came on November 4, 2014, in ceremonies marking the anniversary of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, which this year coincided with the Ashura. The Ashura is the Shi'ite commemoration of the murder of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE, by Umayyad caliph Yazid ibn Mu'awiyah.

While officials in Iran's pragmatic camp, headed by Hashemi Rafsanjani, President Hassan Rohani and the rest of the government (which are leading the détente with the West) did not attend the official regime ceremonies marking the Embassy takeover, leaders of Khamenei's ideological camp (which opposed this détente) took advantage of the ceremonies to make anti-U.S. declarations.[2] Rafsanjani, Rohani, and government representatives did attend the Ashura ceremonies, but refrained from making anti-U.S. statements, against the backdrop of media reports that an Iran-P5+1 nuclear agreement would likely be signed later this month. Moreover, on October 22, 2014, President Rohani presented the Karbala legend, which underpins Iranian culture, particularly political culture, in post-Islamic Revolution Iran, as a model for negotiating with the enemy - instead of as promoting martyrdom, which is the standard interpretation.[3]

In contrast, regime representatives from the ideological camp stressed that the lesson to be learned from both the Ashura and the U.S. Embassy takeover is one of resistance to oppression and to "the arrogance," i.e. the U.S., and of "eliminating oppressors such as America and Zionism from the world." They added that the "Great Satan," that is, the U.S., is still Iran's "No. 1 enemy," and that resisting it is anchored in the tenets of the Shi'ite religion.

This paper will review some of the anti-American statements made by Iranian regime officials in the lead-up to November 4 in Iran, as well as photos from ceremonies on that day.

Khamenei To Ashura Committees: We Must Love The Islam Of Sacrificing Blood And Life

On October 29, 2014, in the run-up to the Ashura, Khamenei's office published excerpts from his speeches in recent years to officials from various hay-at, which are popular committees that convene year round and particularly for Ashura. The excerpts were of Khamenei's guidance to the committees on issues they should emphasize in their own public speeches.

In an October 24, 2013 speech, Khamenei told his audience: "We must address the concerns of the Islamic regime, which are the concerns of the people... The committees cannot be secular. We do not have a secular Imam Hussein committees. Anyone who loves the Imam Hussein loves political Islam – a jihad-waging Islam, an Islam that fights, an Islam [that aspires] to sacrifice its blood and life. This is the meaning of believing in the Imam Hussein. It is a mistake to say that someone who is a member of [such] a committee should be careful not to engage in matters of political Islam."

In an April 11, 2008 speech to a committee, Khamenei said: "It is these religious instructions and this line that set the engine of Shi'a in motion. Now, 1,300 years after the dawn of Islam, we are witnessing the raising of the Shi'a banner in various parts of the Islamic world – [and] this angers politicians, extremist zealots, and the closed-minded in the region and the world. Even before the [Islamic] Revolution, we fought using these religious edicts. Our martyrdom and our struggle against the infidel [Shah] regime began at those same [mosque] pulpits... Even after the Revolution, we drew on this potential; during the Iran-Iraq War, we turned to the [example of] the struggle and the martyrdom [presented] by [the Shi'ite] imams, and encouraged our fighters, who went to the battlefield with headbands proclaiming 'Oh Fatima' and 'Oh Hussein' and declaring, 'We want to be martyrs just like Imam Hussein...'

"One of the committees' most important missions is for us to make sure people today know that it is [Iran] that is connected to the identity of Hussein, and [Iran's enemies] that are connected to the identity of [his murderer, Caliph Yazid].

Official In Khamenei's Office: "The Disciples Of The Prophet [Muhammad] Await An Ashura Command To Destroy [The Americans]"

On November 4, 2014, at a ceremony marking the U.S. Embassy takeover, Khamenei office official Alireza Panahian said: "The evil Americans must not think that they can achieve honor with these [nuclear] talks [with Iran]. If our politicians are conducting dialogue with the Americans, it is our last ultimatum [to them]. The disciples of the Prophet [Muhammad] await an Ashura command to destroy all of them, and Islamic Iran will not rest until it avenges the spilled blood of the world's oppressed."[4]

Assembly Of Experts Member Khatami: Our Resistance To America Is Anchored In The Religion; It Is Neither Transient Nor Emotional

In a November 3, 2014 interview with, Assembly of Experts member and Tehran Friday prayer leader Ahmad Khatami, who is close to Khamenei, said: "This proximity [i.e. Ashura and U.S. Embassy takeover anniversary on the same day] is a good opportunity to explain the infrastructure of the steadfastness against America. We must pass on to our young generation the fact that the resistance to the arrogance is anchored in the religion and the Ashura movement. It is very important to pass this on to our young generation, so that they know that resistance against the arrogance is not something transient or emotional.

"As Western [officials] say, 'Even if the nuclear issue is resolved, the other issues will remain.' We too say that even if the nuclear issue is resolved, we will continue to say 'Death to America,' because this motto is anchored in our faith. The Western side is the symbol of arrogance, and the motto 'There is no God but Allah' is the repudiation of the arrogance.

"There is no doubt that the takfiri circles [such as ISIS] are a creation of America and its allies. This year, the chant of 'Death to America' will be more fundamental and more profound than in previous years... The claim that we use religious slogans to preserve the regime is wrong. The Iranian nation uses mottos from Islam and the Koran properly and appropriately... Those who misunderstand [the religion] and are passive vis-à-vis America [i.e. the pragmatic camp] call this passivity wise. But it is not wise. It is humiliating.

"Our people properly understands and uses mottos properly. The mottos 'Death to America' and 'Death to Israel' are taken from the tenets of the religion."[5]

Basij Commander Naqdi: "The Message Of This Day... Is Eliminating Oppressors Like America And Zionism From The World"

In a November 4, 2014 interview with the Tasnim website, Basij commander Mohammad Reza Naqdi said: "There is no doubt that the overlap of this day [the takeover anniversary] and the day of Ashura and Hussein's rebellion is significant; the root and the origin of November 4 is the same steadfastness and resistance against injustice and oppression... The message of this day is absolutely clear: it is steadfastness against oppression and eliminating oppressors like America and Zionism from the world. This message is clearly delivered to the world today.

"We see that groups mourn [Hussein's death] in New York, not far from the palace of today's Yazid [i.e., Obama]... [as well as] in Africa, Europe, East Asia, and everywhere in the world."[6]

November 4 IRGC Communique: America Is Still The Great Satan And The Revolution's And Iran's No. 1 Enemy

On November 1, 2014, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) issued a communiqué on the two November 4 occasions. It read: "America is still the Great Satan and the No. 1 enemy of the Revolution and the regime of the Islamic Republic. Inspired by the great lesson of the Ashura rebellion, by the eternal will of the Imam [regime founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini], and by the wise instructions of the dear [Supreme] Leader Imam Khamenei, the Iranian nation will never allow the Islamic homeland's honor and independence to be threatened and harmed by the enemy.

"Due to its arrogance and its lust for power, America is the main center of fitna and corruption in the world, and will never [be ready] for true reconciliation and friendship with a popular and independent regime that embodies the powerful life of Islam [i.e. Iran]. Under these circumstances, the courageous Iranian nation still demands the prosecution and punishment of the leaders of the White House for their crimes against the Islamic Iran over the past few decades. Furthermore, in the nuclear negotiations, Iran thinks only of comprehensive and total obedience to its undisputed rights, and a full lifting of the oppressive sanctions."[7]

Appendix: Photos Of U.S. Embassy Takeover Anniversary Ceremonies

"A curse on the Yazid of our time" – Obama depicted as Umayyad Caliph Yazid, who was responsible for the death of Hussein, using an Israeli arrow to kill a Palestinian baby (Source: ISNA, Iran, November 4, 2014)

Burning U.S., U.K. flags and flags with the Persian motto "Death to America" (Source: ISNA, Fars, Iran, November 4, 2014)

Rohani marks Ashura with Shi'ite children (Source: ISNA, Iran, November 4, 2014)

*A. Savyon is the director of MEMRI's Iranian Media project; Y. Mansharof and E. Kharrazi are research fellows at MEMRI.


[1] Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2014.

[2] In an interview with an Iranian website, Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member Ismail Kosari criticized the government's absence from November 4 ceremonies, "since this is a day of resistance to the arrogance.", November 5, 2014.

[3] Rohani said: "The lesson and message of Imam Hussein is brotherhood, unity, forgiveness, [and] accepting the other's side's repentance. The lesson of Karbala is one of constructive engagement and negotiation, as part of the logic and the instructions [of the religion or the leader].", October 22, 2014.

[4] Tasnim (Iran), November 4, 2014.

[5], November 3, 2014.

[6] Tasnim (Iran), November 4, 2014.

[7] Fars (Iran), November 1, 2014.

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