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Iranians Rally in Support of Country’s Nuclear Program

In the city of Tehran, the Iranian government urged its people to come out in support of the country's nuclear program amid U.S. and international pressure. Margaret Warner speaks with NewsHour correspondent Elizabeth Farnsworth about Thursday's rally in Iran.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Elizabeth, welcome.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    Thank you. Hi, Margaret.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Hi there. You were at the rally today where the president of Iran delivered that blistering warning to the U.S. Set the scene for us. What was it like?

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    It's been snowing for four days. That's the first thing to say. It snowed all through the rally. We walked to the rally with thousands of people through snow drifts. People were bundled up.

    There were families, soldiers, individuals, young friends, a lot of chanting, and especially when they saw us because there aren't that many Americans here, very few American, including in the foreign press corps today.

    So we were sounded by people chanting, "Death to America, death to America." One man said, "Look at all the people coming. This is their revolution. Our fathers started and our children will follow with this revolution."

    And another person said, "Twenty-six years have passed and you"– meaning Americans– "don't learn your lesson," referring to the recent statements by the president and the secretary of state against Iran.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    So what did president… we've heard the one quote from President Khatami. But tell us a little more about how he responded to this pressure from the president and Secretary Rice over Iran's nuclear program.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    Well, it was interesting how he got into it. He said, "Today American politicians," and he said, "who consider themselves 'the axis and center of the globe,' are making allegations"– that was his word– "against Iran."

    And then he said those allegations, and he called them a "hue and a cry" or "noise," are aimed at covering what he called the failures of American extremist policy. He called it a psychological war to cover up past failures. And he said, "It's their way of covering up a lack of justification for war mongering."

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    So even though Khatami is considered a moderate, did it sound to you as if he's just as supportive as hard-liners in that government about Iran's right to continue their nuclear program, to enrich uranium, in fact?

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    Yes. He said — it's interesting how he got into that. He was talking about various weaknesses and strengths of the Islamic government, and he said that the scientific progress is overwhelming.

    And he spoke to the audience and said, "Your children," and I'm quoting, "have created great honor for us in all fields, including nuclear technology, even in the face of sanctions, economic sanctions from the U.S. and others."

    He insisted that Iran's nuclear activities are peaceful, and he said that Iran will not stop the peaceful nuclear activities because of what he called others' "illegitimate demand."

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Now, of course, he had that line about the burning hell that awaited any invaders. And I know you've only been there about a day and a half, but from people you've talked to already, do you get the sense that Iran really does feel under military threat from the U.S.?

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    Well, I think that President Khatami's words indicate that they certainly feel under some threat. He said that the Iranian nation doesn't support war or conflict. And he admitted that there are many differences among Iranians.

    But he said that we will unite as a nation against any form of aggression and threat, and this is where that quote came in. He said, "Iran will turn into a burning hell for the aggressors if, God forbid, there were an aggression."

    And we interviewed somebody yesterday that we talked to about this, too. And he said that when he read the journals and in the newspapers that it looks like the same kind of what he called propaganda that came out before the Iraq War.

    And he felt — he said people are very nervous about that. And I felt that Khatami's — the way that he spoke, the passion with which he spoke indicated that they're somewhat concerned.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And when that analyst referred to propaganda, did he mean the statements by the U.S.?

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    Yes. That's right. That's right. And he sees a lot of similarity between the administration's statements before Iraq, before the intervention in Iraq and right now, vis-à-vis Iran.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Finally, Elizabeth, what was it like to be in the midst of a crowd chanting "Death to America"?

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    It's a little disconcerting sometimes. I was here two years ago, and I didn't feel that the chants or the threats were any different than two years ago because of the current pressures and the current back and forth of these strong statements.

    People surrounded us at one point, maybe twenty or thirty people as we were walking in, and chanted and yelled. And, you know, there were effigies of Uncle Sam and there was a lot of passion. But when that was all over, several people would sort of smile and say, "welcome" and "hello" and "where are you from?"

    And one man said, "You know, we're saying death to America, but we're not really against Americans," he said, "we're really just against the CIA" and he was smiling at us as he said this.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Elizabeth, thanks so much, and take care.

  • ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:

    You're welcome. Bye-bye.

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