• Wednesday 21st April 2021

Iranians Welcome President With Protest By Thomas Erdbrink

One protester was almost run over after he threw himself in front of Mr. Rouhani’s car.

TEHRAN – Dozens of protesters hurled eggs and at least one shoe at President Hassan Rouhani as he returned to Tehran on Saturday after a groundbreaking phone call with President Obama and other outreach to the West that has been greeted with widespread support in Iran.

The protest – coming even as supporters gathered to cheer the diplomatic outreach – quickly laid bare the political fissures in Iran over whether to engage with the United States and the challenges Mr. Rouhani and his aides face as they try to get international sanctions over the country’s nuclear program lifted.

Mr. Rouhani was standing in his car, waving through the sunroof as he passed supporters at the airport on Saturday, when opponents began to pelt the vehicle. Security guards scrambled to shield the president with an umbrella as other protesters blocked the road by praying on the pavement.

“Long live Rouhani, man of change,” the president’s backers shouted, as a small police contingent struggled to control the crowd of about 200 that seemed mostly to be of Rouhani supporters. The hard-liners responded by shouting, “Our people are awake and hate America.”

Security guards eventually pulled Mr. Rouhani back inside his car as it sped off, leaving supporters and opponents behind, some pushing and shoving one another. One protester was almost run over after he threw himself in front of Mr. Rouhani’s car.

Analysts expressed surprise that the protest was allowed, given the tight controls over public gatherings, and it raised the possibility that some in the country’s opaque political hierarchy were sending a message of displeasure over last week’s sudden turn of events. It is widely believed that the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supported Mr. Rouhani’s suggestions of an openness to dialogue over the nuclear program during his visit to the United Nations General Assembly last week. But the ayatollah has not yet spoken in public about the New York trip.

The phone call with Mr. Obama came just days after Mr. Rouhani skipped a luncheon at the United Nations were the two leaders had been expected to shake hands. But a meeting on Thursday between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was described as constructive and led Iranian officials to contact the White House on Friday to suggest the phone call, American officials said.

Mr. Rouhani received the phone call from Mr. Obama as he was on his way to Kennedy Airport on Friday, the first contact between American and Iranian presidents since before the hostage crisis 30 years ago.

In comments after his arrival in Tehran, Mr. Rouhani elaborated on the call.

“Yesterday as we were getting ready to head to the airport, the White House called and expressed willingness to set up a phone call between the American president and me,” the semiofficial Fars News agency quoted Mr. Rouhani as saying.

“A call was made to our ambassador’s cellphone,” Mr. Rouhani said. “The conversation mostly focused on the nuclear issue.”

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