One week later, 'Death to USA' chant back in vogue in Iran

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TEHRAN, Iran — The emblematic "Death to U.S.A" chant resounded through the Iranian capital anew Friday, one week after it appeared that the signature slogan could be sidelined as part of a possible thaw in long-acrimonious relations between Iran and the United States.

At the formal Friday prayers ceremony, hard-line Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami labeled President Barack Obama a "liar" and revived the "Death to USA" mantra, whipping up worshippers with a series of denunciations of the "Great Satan," another term he repeated with considerable relish.

"Americans have tried in the past 35 years to topple the Islamic system but failed," Khatami told worshippers at the heavily choreographed Friday prayer ceremony, referring to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which took place a year earlier according to the Persian calendar.

The handling of the chant reflects the deep divisions within the Iranian establishment about the prospect of any kind of détente with Washington and the West.

Last week, in the aftermath of new President Hasan Rouhani's conciliatory comments at the United Nations, the chant was muted at Friday prayer proceedings. A prominent speaker last week even seemed to chide a worshipper who ventured a "Death to USA" declaration out of habit.

However, in his sermon Friday at Tehran University, Ayatollah Khatami reinstated "Death to the USA" to its elevated stature, providing historical perspective about the slogan's origins and its importance to the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who headed the Islamic Revolution.