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U.S. gets some love, and hate, in Tehran

Supporters of Iran’s government took to the streets of the capital Thursday to denounce the United States on the 31st anniversary of the takeover of the American Embassy compound, even as the nation’s Foreign Ministry praised Washington for placing an Iranian militant group on a list of outlawed terrorist organizations.

In a rare moment of accord between the two nations, ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast praised the announcement Wednesday that the Obama administration had placed the ethnic Baluchi group Jundallah on its terrorism list. Iran executed the group’s leader, Abdulmalak Rigi, in June.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran considers putting the name of Rigi’s terrorist group on the U.S. national list of terrorist organizations as a move in the right direction,” Mehmanparast said, according to news reports. “Fighting terrorism is a general responsibility of all nations.”

He also said he hoped Washington would place other militant groups fighting the Iranian government on the list.

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Washington’s move came as diplomats from Iran and world powers, including the U.S., prepare for talks on Iran’s nuclear program later this month.

The day’s contradictory messages showed Iran’s dueling political impulses, combining ritualistic and theatrical appeals to the street with high-wire diplomatic maneuvering.

Iranian and Georgian diplomats, for example, finalized a deal Thursday to lift visa requirements between the two countries and announced the opening of a consulate in the Black Sea city of Batumi. The move came even as some Iranian officials denounce Georgia’s government as too pro-American, especially after it cooperated with Washington in the 2008 extradition of an Iranian accused of arms smuggling.

Iran’s leadership seeks diplomatic successes to keep at bay an international community worried about the ultimate aims of its nuclear program and its rhetoric against the global political order. But it must also cater to an increasingly radical and narrow base of hard-line supporters who have gained the upper hand in domestic affairs.

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Iran’s state-controlled television and radio outlets did not mention the Obama administration’s move or Tehran’s positive reaction. Iran has regularly denounced Jundallah, a Sunni Muslim minority group that has killed scores of people in bombings and shootings in Iran, calling it a U.S. proxy.

Meanwhile, state television flooded airwaves with images of government-sponsored Basiji militiamen, schoolchildren holding mock assault rifles and pro-government activists chanting “Death to America” at a demonstration in front of the former site of the U.S. Embassy, now called the “Den of Spies,” where radical students held American personnel hostage for 444 days until early 1981.

Masked militiamen on motorcycles also threw stones at the British Embassy compound.

Iran annually celebrates the storming of the U.S. Embassy as a patriotic holiday, called the “Day to Fight World Arrogance.”

At this year’s ceremony, students from Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon took to the podium to denounce the United States and Israel.

Organizers of the event also voiced support for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s plan to cut subsidies and redistribute some of the savings to government supporters.

“Nuclear energy and the retargeting of subsidies plans are both inalienable rights of Iranians,” read a banner at the event, where free snacks were served.

daragahi@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Daragahi reported from Beirut and special correspondent Mostaghim from Tehran.


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