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Iran: Rafsanjani backtracks on comments over anti-American slogan - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In this picture taken on Saturday, May 11, 2013, former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani waves to media as he registers his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election, while his daughter Fatemeh, right, looks on, at the election headquarters of the interior ministry in Tehran, Iran (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

In this picture taken on Saturday, May 11, 2013, former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani waves to media as he registers his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election, while his daughter Fatemeh, right, looks on, at the election headquarters of the interior ministry in Tehran, Iran (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The head of Iran’s Expediency Council, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, attempted on Monday to play down statements published on his official website that caused controversy among Iran’s conservatives.

Rafsanjani said that the re-publication of an interview that touched on his thoughts on the slogan of “Death to America” was a “mistake.”

“The memory is about an event that happened many years ago, and the person responsible for the website published it without coordination [with me] which was a mistake given the current situation,” Hashemi Rafsanjani told Jomhoori-Eslami newspaper.

During the interview Rafsanjani said that he recalled that Ayatollah Khomeini had agreed—in private—that people should stop chanting “Death to America,” a slogan that became popular with revolutionaries during Iran’s 1979 revolution, and one that is still used at some official events today.

He said: “I did not agree with the call for anyone’s death during public meetings. For example, in our meetings, ‘Death to Banisadr’ was a popular chant and I told people not to chant it after Friday prayers. There was ‘Death to Bazargan,’ and I told them not to say that. There was ‘Death to the Soviets,’ and now we no longer have that problem. As for ‘Death to America,’ I said the same thing. I personally am opposed to strong and offensive rhetoric—I do not find it constructive.”

The publication of these comments prompted a harsh reaction among many Iranian hardline conservative media outlets and officials, including General Mohammad Ali Jafari, Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).

In a speech attended by members of a militia affiliated with the IRGC in the northeastern city of Bojnord, Jafari said that the Iranian people would not believe claims that Ayatollah Khomeini did not approve of the slogan.

“There are those who seek to twist the statements by the late Imam [Khomeini], and claim that he agreed to end chanting death to America,” he said on Sunday, adding that “people know their tricks.”

The “Death to America” chant has risen up the agenda of Iranian media and politics in the past few weeks, especially after President Hassan Rouhani’s telephone conversation with US President Barack Obama, the first direct contact between the leaders of both states in more than thirty years.

This was accompanied by other moves to improve ties between the two states, which have been locked in a state of mutual hostility since 1979.

Meanwhile, Hashemi Rafsanjani is not the only official who has called for the slogan to be dropped.

One of the first officials to comment on the subject was the leader of Friday prayers in Esfahan. In a recent interview with Qanun newspaper, Hojatoleslam Mohamed Taqi Rahbar was asked what the role of the phrase “Death to America” means in light of the fact that relations between Iran and the US may be set to improve.

He replied: “At one time, we had the phrase ‘Death to the Soviets.’ If relations with America become like those with Russia, and America shows good intentions, then this problem will be solved. There is no verse in the Qu’ran that says we should chant ‘Death to America’: just as we dealt with the problem with Russia and stopped chanting against them, we can deal with the problem with America.”

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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