Iran's president defends ‘Death to America’ chants

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani claims that the slogan “Death to America” is not meant to be taken literally and merely draws from a long history of political antagonism between the U.S. and Iran.

“This slogan that is chanted is not a slogan against the American people,” he said, via a translator, in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” set to air this weekend.

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“Our people respect the American people. The Iranian people are not looking for war with any country, but at the same time the policies of the United States have been against the national interests of Iranian people,” he added.

In particular, Rouhani mentioned the U.S. government’s long support for the shah — whom the CIA helped to reinstate in 1953 by overthrowing the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq — even as support for him was eroding amongst Iranians.

Rouhani also pointed to the U.S.’s support for Saddam Hussein during the bitter eight-year war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s.

“People will not forget these things,” Rouhani said in the interview. “We cannot forget the past, but at the same time our gaze must be towards the future.”

The interview with “60 Minutes” comes as the nuclear deal between Iran, the U.S. and other world powers enters a new stage, following Congress’s inability to stop it in its tracks.

The Obama administration took steps this week to advance the implementation of the deal by naming an American coordinator for the pact and beginning to outline the sanctions that would be rolled back once final implementation is reached, which is likely to be some point next year.

Critics of the agreement — which enacts limits on Iran’s nuclear powers in exchange for the lifting of sanctions on its oil and financial sectors — repeatedly point to Iranian chants of “Death to America” as one of the many reasons why Tehran cannot be trusted to uphold its end of the bargain.

“If you elect me as president, under no circumstances will a theocratic ayatollah who chants ‘Death to America’ ever be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon,” Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioPoll: Trump holds narrow lead over Clinton in Florida Clinton enjoying edge over Trump in Silicon Valley The Trail 2016: Trump works to widen his appeal MORE (R-Fla.) pledged during Wednesday evening’s GOP presidential debate.

Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryObama phones Italian leader after deadly earthquake US arms sale to Saudi Arabia under fire from lawmakers Top Republican presses Kerry for Iran 'ransom' details MORE has himself said that he told Iranian leaders that the chants are “pretty stupid” and “not helpful.”