DUBAI (Reuters) – Hundreds of Iranians cheered President Hassan Rouhani on his return from New York yesterday after his historic phone call with US President Barack Obama but a smaller number of hardliners shouted “Death to America” and threw eggs and shoes at his official car leaving the airport, Iranian media reported.
While an anticipated handshake between Rouhani and Obama at United Nations headquarters failed to materialise, they held a 15-minute call on Friday at the end of the moderate new Iranian president’s trip for the UN General Assembly.
Iranian media said hundreds of Rouhani supporters keen to see him make good on pledges of “constructive interaction” with the world to ease Iran’s international isolation and win relief from punitive sanctions turned up to hail his UN visit.
They greeted the president with chants of “Rouhani we thank you” and “Iran calls for moderation” and held aloft portraits of him, the student news agency ISNA said.
But about 100 conservative hardliners also appeared, shouting “Death to America”, a standard refrain at radical rallies in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and “no compromise or surrender to our national interests”.
Witness reports posted on Twitter said protesters pelted Rouhani’s limousine with eggs and stones in anger over his direct contact with Obama, the first between Iranian and US presidents for 34 years.
The semi-official Mehr news agency ran pictures of some protesters banging the sides of Rouhani’s car as it began to depart the airport. Mehr said one protester threw his shoes at the vehicle, a gesture of deep insult in the Islamic faith.
US officials said the phone call – which focused on how to resolve the standoff over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme – was requested by the Iranian side but in comments to journalists after his return, Rouhani indicated it was a US initiative.
Rouhani won election in a landslide last June, buoyed by many voters keen for steps towards moderation and reform after eight years of intensifying repression at home and isolation abroad under confrontational predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The contacts Rouhani and his foreign minister had with US officials during the UN General Assembly were unlikely to have happened without the approval of Iran’s ultimate authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.