When Iranians cry "death to America," they're speaking out against the United States' policies -- not its people, according to a statement reportedly published on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's website Tuesday. The supreme leader of Iran's comments clarifying the slogan came while talking to students this week before the anniversary of the takeover of Tehran, the Associated Press reported. Khamenei explained that the "death to America" motto really "means death to U.S. policies and arrogance."
Khamenei was speaking shortly before the 36-year anniversary of the Tehran takeover, when hundreds of Iranian students rushed the U.S. embassy and took more than 60 people hostage on Nov. 4, 1979. As they continued to imprison 52 Americans for more than 400 days, the incident evolved into what is now known as the Iran hostage crisis. The U.S. and Iran severed diplomatic ties on April 7, 1980.
Since then, Iranians have rallied around the slogan "death to America," often chanting the phrase at political events and religious gatherings. The Washington Post reported in 2013 that some scholars have translated the motto -- which is graffitied on walls across Iran -- as "down with America," a less threatening message.
"This slogan that is chanted is not a slogan against the American people. Our people respect the American people," President Hassan Rouhani said in September, according to Agence France-Presse. "But...the policies of the United States have been against the national interests of Iranian people, [so] it's understandable that people will demonstrate sensitivity to this issue."
Khamenei seemed to confirm this theory Tuesday but remained stubborn on trusting the U.S. He's not alone: Iranian lawmakers decided Monday not to abandon the "death to America" slogan, despite the recent nuclear agreement between the countries. "The nature of the U.S. attitude is continuation of the same hostile aims from the past, and the nation will not forget this," the AP reported Khamenei said.