Iranians cheer, also protest over Rouhani's historic chat with Obama

Reuters

* Hundreds hail moderate president's return from UN GeneralAssembly

* Smaller group throw eggs, stones at Rouhani's car leavingairport

* Iranian rial currency rises after Obama-Rouhani phone call

* Top MP lauds contact as sign of Iran's "position ofauthority"

By Marcus George

DUBAI, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Hundreds of Iranians cheeredPresident Hassan Rouhani on his return from New York on Saturdayafter his historic phone call with U.S. President Barack Obamabut a smaller number of hardliners shouted "Death to America"and threw eggs and shoes at his official car leaving theairport, Iranian media reported.

While an anticipated handshake between Rouhani and Obama atUnited Nations headquarters failed to materialise, they held a15-minute call on Friday at the end of the moderate new Iranianpresident's trip for the U.N. General Assembly.

Iranian media said hundreds of Rouhani supporters keen tosee him make good on pledges of "constructive interaction" withthe world to ease Iran's international isolation and getpunitive sanctions lifted turned up to hail his U.N. visit.

But about 100 conservative hardliners also appeared and,shouting the "Death to America" slogan common since the 1979Islamic Revolution, pelted his official car with eggs and stonesin protest at Rouhani's diplomatic opening towards Washington,according to witness reports posted on Twitter.

The semi-official Mehr news agency ran pictures of groups ofprotesters holding up a Death to America placard and banging thesides of Rouhani's limousine as it began to depart the airport.Mehr said one protester threw his shoes at the car, a gesture ofdeep insult in the Islamic faith.

There has been little reaction so far from Iran's politicalleaders but one senior parliamentarian tentatively welcomedRouhani's conversation with Obama as a sign of the IslamicRepublic's "position of authority".

"This (phone call) shows that Iran's place in the world isof critical importance. That the president of America insists ona telephone call is a sign of sincerity," Mehr quoted the headof parliament's committee for national security and foreignaffairs, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, as saying on Saturday.

The Iranian currency, the rial, climbed against the dollaron the open market by around two percent following the landmarkphone call.

ROUHANI WON ELECTION ON MODERATE, REFORM VOTE

Rouhani won election in a landslide last June, buoyed bymany voters keen for steps towards moderation and reform aftereight years of intensifying repression at home and isolationabroad under hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But new high-level contacts with U.S. officials at theUnited Nations were unlikely to have happened without theapproval of Iran's clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah AliKhamenei, the polarised reactions on Rouhani's return hinted atthe challenge he faces in getting hardliners especially in thepowerful security elite behind his conciliatory approach.

U.S. officials said the phone call - which concentrated onhow to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear programme - wasrequested by the Iranian side but in comments to journalistsafter his return, Rouhani indicated it was an U.S. initiative.

The phone contact signalled a striking shift in tone betweenIran and Washington, which cut diplomatic relations a year afterthe revolution ousted U.S.-allied Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi andled to the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis.

Obama has said for years he is open to direct contact withIran while also stressing that all options - including militarystrikes - were on the table to prevent Iran building atom bombs.

The United States and its allies have accused the IslamicRepublic of seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability butTehran says it is enriching uranium only for civilian energy.

Before leaving the airport Rouhani told journalists thatcontrary to reports in Western media, he had not refused ameeting with Obama earlier in the week but there wasinsufficient time to coordinate it.

"To have a meeting between the presidents of these twocountries there are many necessary steps. If this meeting hadbeen compressed into the programme, it would have beenpremature," the official news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.

View Comments (0)