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Rohani Returns To Mixed Welcome After Historic Chat With Obama

  • RFE/RL

Hard-line supporters of Iran's Basij militia raise up anti-American placards as Iranian president Hassan Rouhani's motorcade leaves Tehran's Mehrabad Airport upon his arrival from New York on September 28.

Hard-line supporters of Iran's Basij militia raise up anti-American placards as Iranian president Hassan Rouhani's motorcade leaves Tehran's Mehrabad Airport upon his arrival from New York on September 28.

Iran's President Hassan Rohani has returned to a mixed reception in Tehran after his historic phone call with U.S. President Barack Obama.

Iranian media said hundreds of Rohani supporters turned up at the airport. But about 100 hard-liners shouting "Death to America" reportedly pelted his car with eggs and stones in protest.

Speaking after returning to Tehran on September 28, Rohani said that his conversation with Obama centered on the subject of nuclear power.

"The conversation that we had on the phone was mostly over nuclear issues," Rohani said. "And I said during that phone call that not only is it the absolute right of the Iranian people [to nuclear power] and not only is its development an Iranian issue, but also an even bigger issue is the national pride of the Iranian people. He approved the right of the Iranian people to nuclear energy."

During his trip to participate in the UN General Assembly in New York, Rohani had indicated a change of position on Iran's nuclear program. On September 27 he talked with Obama over the phone for 15 minutes.

But the gestures were not liked by some in Iran.

The semiofficial Mehr news agency said at least one protester threw his shoes at the car, a deeply insulting gesture in the Muslim world.

Some protesters reportedly chanted, "Dialogue with Satan is not prudence and hope."

Iran's official media has long referred to the United States as the "Great Satan," while "prudence and hope" was Rohani's campaign slogan ahead of his election as president in June.

It was the first conversation between American and Iranian leaders since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

After the call, Obama said he was hopeful a deal can be done with Rohani to ease international concerns over the scope of Iran's nuclear program.

"I do believe that there is a basis for a resolution [to the Iranian nuclear issue]," he said. "Iran's supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons; President Rohani has indicated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons; I’ve made clear that we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iran meeting its obligations."

Obama said he and Rohani have directed their teams to work quickly to pursue an agreement.

On a Twitter feed believed to be genuine, Rohani said that in his phone conversation he told Obama "Have a Nice Day!" and Obama responded with the Persian parting phrase "Khodahafez" ("May God be your guardian" or "goodbye")

U.S. officials said the phone call -- which centered on ways to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear program -- was requested by the Iranian side.

While he was in New York, Rohani said that he hoped talks with the United States and five other major powers "will yield, in a short period of time, tangible results" on a nuclear deal.

Rohani, who took office last month, told reporters that Iran would bring a plan to resolve the dispute over Tehran's nuclear program to an October meeting with the 5+1 group of powers in Geneva.

The group comprises the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, France and Great Britain -- plus Germany.

Rohani has pledged to reduce nuclear tensions, and UN officials said they have seen encouraging signs from Tehran.

Rohani's initiative appears to have the crucial support of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Several religious figures -- including Friday prayer leaders, who are all loyal to Khamenei — have publicly endorsed Rohani's "heroic flexibility" a term coined by Khamenei to show that Iran was open to dialogue but remained conscious of the Islamic republic's strategic interests.

Iran has repeatedly denied Western charges that it is secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program.


With reporting by Reuters, AP, BBC, and AFP
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