Hassan Rouhani’s supporters came to his defense today after the Iranian president was jeered by opponents on his arrival in Tehran over the weekend for a phone conversation with President Barack Obama.
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said the call underscored Iran’s “position of strength,” according to comments published in Shargh, the most popular pro-Rouhani newspaper in Tehran. “This shows that Iran has a notable status in the world for the U.S. president to be keen to show his respect,” Boroujerdi said.
The 15-minute phone call through interpreters on Sept. 27 was the highest-level U.S.-Iranian encounter since before Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979. It sprang from a change of heart by the new Iranian leader. Their conversation marked an about-face from last week, when the Rouhani rejected a U.S. offer to meet with Obama -- or just shake hands -- at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
About a hundred supporters cheered the Iranian president as he returned to Tehran yesterday, according to the state-run Mehr news agency. A smaller number of protesters tried to block his way, chanting anti-U.S. slogans. Most of those protesters were young members of the Basij militia, a volunteer auxiliary security force controlled by the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Mehr reported. One of the protesters threw a shoe at Rouhani’s car. Shargh said some attempted to throw eggs at him.
The division illustrates the balance Rouhani needs to strike between delivering on his pledges to ease sanctions on his country by engaging with world powers including the U.S., while not giving pretexts to conservative entities within the Iranian establishment to condemn his government as surrendering to Western nations.
“I hope Rouhani’s efforts work and Iranians start feeling an improvement in social and economic conditions soon,” Mansour, a 69 year-old retired oil engineer, who like others interviewed for this article asked only to be identified by his first name for security reasons. “I hope Americans do not act in a disappointing way and Iran’s conservatives let the president continue his positive policies.”
Conservative website Raja News qualified the exchange between the two presidents as a “strange, useless action void of results.” This contact endangered “the most important asset of the Iranian nation, its revolutionary brand,” it said on its website. Hossein Shariatmadari, editor in chief of the conservative Kayhan newspaper, said in an interview with the Fars news agency that Rouhani’s decision was an “ugly” move.
Still, most Iranian newspapers and broadcasters had favorable coverage of Rouhani’s trip. State television, which is broadcast nationally and is the main source of news for most Iranians, said the diplomatic advancements were “positive.”
During prime time last night, the channel showed a series of short interviews with Iranians who backed the president and said he defended the nation’s honor.
One of those interviewed said Rouhani must have acted with the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s ultimate decision maker on affairs of the state, including Iran’s foreign policy.
Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology has led Obama and his allies in Europe to tighten economic sanctions, and the U.S. and Israel to threaten military action to prevent the Islamic republic from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran denies that it’s seeking to do so.
“The talk was mainly about the nuclear issue,” Rouhani told reporters at Tehran’s airport, according to a separate Mehr report. “I told him this program is not only the right of Iranians but also their pride and the U.S. president acknowledged this.”
Rouhani took office last month after winning election on a pledge to end Iran’s global isolation and ease the trade curbs.
The Iranian rial briefly appreciated to 29,700 against the U.S. dollar in unregulated trading after the announcement of the phone exchange from 30,600 rials, before ceding the gains, according to figures compiled by Daily Rates for Gold Coins & Foreign Currencies, a Facebook page used by traders and companies in Iran and abroad.
“It’s good that Khamenei and conservatives are finally giving Rouhani an opportunity to do his job,” Ahmad-Reza, a 28-year-old civil engineer, said in a phone interview. “We lost a lot of ground in the last few years on the international arena. Now Rouhani can make it up.”