Iran demonstrators mark US embassy seizure

Ponder if ties will change after US elections

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Thousands of young Iranians marked the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy on Monday, a day before Americans elect a new president, with some demonstrators indifferent to the U.S. vote and a few wondering if it could help rebuild ties.

The demonstrators, mainly schoolchildren and students, brandished banners proclaiming "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" and carried effigies of Uncle Sam, who symbolizes the United States, which were to be torched later.

Iran has been a focus of the foreign policy debate in the U.S. campaign before Tuesday's vote. Both candidates, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, say they will toughen sanctions. Obama says he is prepared to engage in direct talks.

Iran and the United States have had no diplomatic relations for nearly three decades since students took U.S. diplomats at the mission hostage for 444 days following the 1979 Islamic revolution which toppled the U.S.-backed shah.

The United States cut ties with Tehran in 1980. Washington now says it is considering opening a U.S. interests section in Tehran, which would mean sending diplomats. It says this would show the United States was against Iran's government not people.

Possibility of change

But amid "Death to America" chants outside the former U.S. mission, some wondered if Tuesday's vote could bring change.

"There is a good possibility there would be a change in their outlook towards Iran with the coming of the new president. I am very optimistic, especially if Obama is elected," Ahmad Abdullahi, a 34-year-old school teacher, told Reuters.

However, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that hatred of Washington was deep-seated and praised the Islamist students who took over "the centre of espionage."

"Besides, they (the United States) have not apologized yet and rather keep on with their arrogant attitude," Khamenei said.

Bush labeled Iran part of an "axis of evil" in 2002, a move that angered the Islamic Republic particularly after it helped in the 2001 U.S.-led war to topple Afghanistan's Taliban.

Iranian analysts say officials in Tehran may privately prefer Obama but they are not counting on a major U.S. policy shift. Some demonstrators on Monday echoed that view.

"I don't think their imperialist instinct would allow any change in their behavior and demeanor towards Iran or any other country," said 71-year-old pensioner Aboutaleb Mirzaie.

Debate in Iran about ties has grown as politicians start maneuvering before the Islamic Republic's own presidential race in June. Critics say President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has isolated Iran with his fiery speeches against Washington and the West.