White House downplays 'death to America' protests in Iran

The Obama administration on Monday played down U.S. flag burnings and chants of “Death to America” in Iran on the anniversary of the storming of the American embassy in Tehran.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the “vast majority” of Iranians want better relations with the United States. The administration has come under heavy pressure from Congress and its Middle East allies as it seeks to strike a diplomatic deal on Iran's nuclear program.

“We believe that the vast majority of Iranians would prefer a better relationship with the West and would prefer the benefits of that better relationship with the West, including the economic benefits of rejoining the international community, to the current status quo,” Carney said. “I think that's what the elections told us that led in part to this development and this potential breakthrough. You know, we'll continue to focus on substantive negotiations to help bring about the policy goal that we seek.”

At least 10,000 protesters gathered at the site of the former embassy on Monday for the 34th anniversary of the storming of what many Iranians still refer to as the “den of spies,” NBC reports. They reportedly burned U.S. flags and effigies of President Obama.

“As the president has said,” Carney said, “the history of mistrust between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran is deep and it will not be erased overnight. But what we are doing now is not about trust. We're engaged in serious and substantive negotiations that offer the possibility that we can stop the advance of Iran's nuclear program, gain more transparency into their nuclear activities and negotiate a long-term comprehensive solution that resolves the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear program.”

Carney's remarks come as the White House is pressuring Senate leaders to delay a vote on new sanctions that have broad bipartisan support, at least until after a new round of talks between Iran and six nations at the end of the week in Geneva. The House tightened the screws on Iran's energy sector by a 400-20 vote in July.

“What we're talking about right now is a pause for a short time while we get through this next round and have discussions after it,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Monday. “And then we'll talk more longer term about what our strategy should be then.”

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