TEHRAN, Iran — Smiling and waving flags, Iranians from across the political spectrum welcomed President Hassan Rouhani home Saturday with cheers for his historic phone conversation with his American counterpart. But pockets of anger over the new contact between the two enemy nations signaled challenges ahead.
Hard-liners opposed to any improved contact with Washington made their objections clear as several dozen protesters chanting “Death to America” tried to block his motorcade in Tehran. The semiofficial Mehr news agency reported that at least one demonstrator hurled a shoe — a common gesture of contempt in the Middle East — in Rouhani’s direction. Other reports said eggs were thrown at his car.
“Dialogue with Satan is not ‘hope and prudence,'” some chanted, using terms from the theme of Rouhani’s campaign in the June presidential election.
Rouhani supporters greeted him with placards thanking him for seeking peace instead of confrontation. One banner read: “Yes to peace, no to war.”
Friday’s 15-minute phone call between Rouhani and President Barack Obama capped a week of drama revolving around Rouhani’s participation in the annual U.N. meeting of world leaders.
The Iranian leader now has the difficult mission of trying to unite the country behind his outreach to ease a three-decade-long estrangement with the U.S. and move toward a possible settlement to roll back sanctions imposed over Tehran’s nuclear program. The West says Iran’s program aims at developing weapons technology, while Tehran says it is for peaceful purposes.
The effort appears to have the critical backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But even the endorsement from Iran’s most powerful figure is not enough to silence criticism of the fast-paced developments during the past days.
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, who heads the foreign policy and national security committee in parliament, was quoted by Iranian media as saying that the call showed Iran’s “might.” But the hard-line rajanews.com news website said there was no justification for Rouhani to talk to the “Great Satan,” its term for the United States, and that the conversation was “a strange and useless step.”
Rouhani has followed a policy of moderation and easing tensions with the outside world, a marked distance from the bombastic style of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rouhani says Iran is ready to provide assurances that Iran’s nuclear program won’t be weaponized by offering greater transparency and cooperation.
He has demanded lifting of sanctions in return.
The CNN website, blocked since unrest broke out in 2009 over Ahmadinejad’s disputed election, was accessible Saturday in what could be a sign of gradual easing of Internet restrictions and outreach to the U.S.