In a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sought to clear the air with Americans who might take offense at the “Death to America” chants that have marked the nationwide rallies there to mark the occasion.
The “Death to America” chants, Khamenei said, are directed at the Trump administration, according to multiple published reports, and not the American people.
Khamenei, appearing before a group of Iranian air force officers, said the United States was "the embodiment of evil, violence, crisis-making and warmongering.”
"The U.S. officials, while insulting the Iranian nation, ask why you say ‘Death to America,'" Khamenei said. "First of all, I want to tell the American people that 'Death to America' means 'Death to Trump, Bolton and Pompeo.' It means down with the American politicians in charge, who are currently represented by the aforementioned persons."
'Death to America' means 'Death to the few American rulers who are running that country.’ We have no fight to pick with the American people," he added. "As long as the United States shows viciousness and savagery, the slogan 'Death to America' will never fall from the mouth of the powerful Iranian nation."
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have been particularly high recently. Last year, Trump withdrew the U.S. from Iran’s landmark 2015 nuclear accord with world powers and restored economic sanctions.
Iran’s nuclear chief announced last month that the country was taking steps toward the enrichment of uranium fuel.
Trump said in a recent CBS News interview that the U.S. has an “incredible base” in Iraq that is vital “because I want to be able to watch Iran.”
That drew an angry response from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who said: “You say you stay in Iraq to watch Iran, while before that you were saying you stay there for fighting terrorism. It is so nice that you honestly expressed yourself!”
“You are in Afghanistan for the same purpose,” Rouhani added. “You want to watch, whether Iran or Russia and China.”
Trump has adopted a hard line on Iran, accusing it of sowing chaos across the region through its proxies in Iraq and other countries.
Rouhani said the U.S. would never again dominate Iran in the way it did before the 1979 Iranian Revolution, when the country was ruled by a U.S.-backed monarchy. Iranians are currently marking the 40th anniversary of the uprising, which brought anti-American clerics to power.
“It is impossible for you to take Iran back to 40 years ago. We will never go back to the era of American domination,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.