Ten years after Islamic militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and made hostages a cruel symbol of Middle East politics, Iran will mark the anniversary today with an orchestrated outpouring of anti-American rage.
Once again, as on previous anniversaries of the takeover, radicals will march down Taleghani Avenue to the iron gates of the embassy compound, now a military school of the Revolutionary Guards, chanting, " Marg bar Amerika"-- "Death to America"--before invited representatives of the foreign press.
"The dismay and shame resulting from this humiliation will always remain on the face of the oppressor ringleaders of the United States," the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared this week as the radical fervor moved toward crescendo. Khamenei was named Iran's spiritual leader last summer after the death of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic revolution and the man who branded Washington "the Great Satan."
Today's demonstrations will include the burning of American flags and the opening, on the former embassy grounds, of a five-day exhibition of documents and other purported evidence of U.S. espionage in Iran. Military men accused of taking part in a U.S.-organized spy ring will be presented to the foreign press.
The 160 flags put to the torch will commemorate 16 Kuwaiti Shiite Muslims beheaded two months ago by Saudi Arabia on charges of planting bombs in connection with this year's pilgrimage to Mecca. The Saudis accused Iran of ordering the terrorist incident, and Tehran authorities have labeled it a U.S.-Saudi plot.
Seizure of the embassy created a political gulf between Washington and Tehran in the first months of the revolution that drove U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi from power. The remaining year of President Jimmy Carter's term was scarred by the takeover of what student captors called "a den of spies."
Iran Television released a steady barrage of film clips of the 52 captive diplomats and military men. A U.S. rescue raid collapsed in disaster at the staging point called Desert 1, and a spiritual leader deepened the wound by gleefully poking at the remains of American casualties.
The hostages were finally released after 444 days of captivity, on the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President. Iranian leaders still crow over the episode.
"Its main thrust was that the colossal empire of wealth, might and deception which pushed around nations and their leaders . . . was itself humiliated," Khamenei declared in remarks monitored in Nicosia. "The world was shown that the power of the bullies is not absolute."
However, the embassy takeover served to ostracize the Khomeini regime among Western nations, and Khomeini's pledge to export fundamentalist Islam raised opposition in neighboring Muslim states. Iran's decade-long war with Iraq saw Arab nations, with few exceptions, pledging solidarity and providing funds to their brother government in Baghdad in the struggle against non-Arab Iran.
The death of Khomeini left the Iranian leadership in rival camps of pragmatists and radicals. Today's activities at the embassy are a radical show. The Militant Clergy Assn. of Tehran has taken the lead in organizing the program, which it said in a statement would be conducted "more fervently than in the past so that the last hopes of our enemies are crushed."
Significantly, a major speaker will be Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, the hard-line former interior minister dropped by pragmatist President Hashemi Rafsanjani from his new government. Mohtashemi had not been seen in recent weeks and was once rumored to be under house arrest.
In an interview made public Friday by the official Islamic Republic News Agency, Mohtashemi said he had been on a visit to Lebanon. He did not disclose the reason for his trip or his itinerary, but the bearded cleric is known to maintain close relations with fundamentalist Shiite groups in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, the umbrella organization whose radical factions are believed to hold foreign hostages there, including eight Americans.
In the news service interview, Mohtashemi denied reports of a power struggle between the two leadership camps, saying: "Conservative or extremist in the Western sense of the words are just alien expressions in Islam. When a common enemy is concerned, a Muslim has just one single outlook."
While no Iranian leader speaks ill of the embassy seizure, Rafsanjani, in a Tehran press conference two weeks ago, commented on today's anniversary with less fervor than has been heard from the radicals this week in Tehran. He called the takeover "an important incident . . . an important decision."
In his evident desire to improve relations with the West for help in rebuilding Iran's war-devastated economy, Rafsanjani has found himself dogged by the issue of hostages--in this case those held by pro-Iranian Lebanese Shiites--and a legacy of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy. In response to the takeover, then-President Carter froze Iranian assets in the United States.
In last summer's hostage crisis in Beirut, Washington sent word to Tehran asking for Iranian help. Rafsanjani responded positively but sent signals back that the Bush Administration should offer a sign of good will, mentioning specifically the impounded funds.
444 DAYS OF TERROR 1979
November 4: Militants seize U.S. Embassy, 66 hostages
November 10, 12, 14: U.S. deports Iranian students, halts import of Iranian oil, freezes assets worth $8 billion
November 19, 20: 12 black and female hostages released
November 21: Blindfolded hostages paraded before huge crowds chanting "Death to Carter"
December 12: U.S. expels 183 Iranian diplomats
December 15: Shah leaves U.S. for exile in Panama 1980
Jan. 13: U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran vetoes by Soviet Union
Jan. 29: Disclosure of six U.S. citizens escape from Iran via the Canadian Embassy
Apr. 7: U.S. breaks diplomatic relations with Iran and expels last 35 diplomats
Apr. 25: Desert One fiasco: U.S. military's attempt to rescue hostages fails when three helicopters malfunction; crash at rendezvous kills eight
July 10: Ailing hostage freed, leaving 52 still held
July 27: Shah dies in Cairo
Sept. 22: Iraq invades Iran, starting nine-year war
Nov. 4: One year after embassy seizure, Ronald Reagan defeats Jimmy Carter in presidential election; Iranians demonstrate outside embassy 1981
Jan. 20 Hostages are released after 444 days' captivity as Carter leaves office and Reagan is sworn in