TEHRAN, Iran – Smiling and waving flags, Iranians from across the political spectrum welcomed President Hasan 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, referring to Rouhani’s campaign earlier this year.
Rouhani supporters, meanwhile, 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.