News / Middle East

Iranian President Faces Backlash Over US Visit

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, Sept. 24, 2013.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, Sept. 24, 2013.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may have made a favorable impression on many in the West during his visit to the United Nations last week, but some of his country’s hardline military leaders were not at all pleased with the trip.

The way they see it, Rouhani should have refused to talk by telephone with U.S. President Barack Obama on the last day of his stay in the United States.
In an interview with an Iranian news-site, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, said it was a “tactical error” for Rouhani to have spoken with the U.S. president.

“If we see errors being made by officials, the revolutionary forces will issue the necessary warnings,” Jafari said.

The military chief argued that until Washington lifts economic sanctions on Iran and accepts Tehran’s nuclear program, there should be no contact between the country’s two leaders.

The intervention of the Revolutionary Guards’ commander underscores the internal challenges Rouhani faces in trying to reach agreement with the West over Iran’s nuclear program.

West worried by Iranian nuclear program

Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology has long worried the West, which accuses Iran of wanting to develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for civil purposes only -- a point Rouhani stressed repeatedly in public and private meetings in New York last week. The U.S. and Israel have also threatened military action to prevent the Islamic republic from obtaining nuclear weapons.

With the West’s economic sanctions squeezing Iran, Rouhani has made solving the nuclear standoff with West a key goal.

Jafari’s condemnation of the phone conversation with Obama comes after both Rouhani and Iran’s overall leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on the Revolutionary Guards to stay out of politics. Members of the Revolutionary Guards consider themselves the guardians of the values of Iran’s 1979 revolution.

But according to Jafari, Rouhani, who was in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, was right to have avoided meeting Obama face-to-face, but was wrong to have accepted the September 27 phone call from U.S. president.

“Just as he refused to meet Obama, he should also have refused to speak with him on the telephone and should have waited for concrete action by the United States,” Jafari told Tasnimnews.com. U.S. officials had harbored hopes that two would briefly meet in New York and there was speculation of an “historic handshake.”

Last week’s phone call between Obama and Rouhani – it lasted about 15 minutes -- was the first direct contact between top-level leaders of the two countries since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Relations between the two nations were severed that year after Iranian revolutionaries seized 52 U.S. diplomats and held them captive for more than a year.

Rouhani told the state-run Mehr news agency that his brief conversation with Obama “was mainly about the nuclear issue.” He added: “I told him this program is not only the right of Iranians but also their pride and the U.S. president acknowledged this.”

Jafari says the United States should respond to Rouhani’s gesture of good will in New York by “lifting all sanctions against the Iranian nation, releasing Iranian assets frozen in the United States, ending its hostility toward Iran and accepting Iran’s nuclear program.”


Eggs and shoes

When Rouhani returned home over the weekend, he was greeted by about 300 supporters at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport who applauded his outreach to the United States.

President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013.President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013.
x
President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013.
President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013.
But several dozen hard-liners also turned up to protest with ritual chants of “Death to America.”  They also pelted Rouhani’s car with eggs and shoes and held up signs reading, “Negotiations with the Great Satan at what price?”

Some of the protesters were from the Basij militia, a volunteer force commanded by the Revolutionary Guards.

Jafari wasn’t alone in his criticizing the Iranian president. The commander of the Guards air wing, General Amir-Ali Hadjizadeh, told the IRG’s own sepahnews.com website that “U.S. hostility can’t be forgotten with a phone call and a smile.”


Despite the critics, analysts believe Rouhani maintains the crucial support of Khamenei, the supreme leader.

“A decision has been taken by the Iranian establishment to move in the direction of dialogue with the U.S.,” Mahjoob Zweiri, a professor of Middle East politics at Qatar University in Doha, told Bloomberg News.

A reflection of that is Rouhani has received praise generally for his New York trip from Tehran-based newspapers and state television.

“Currently most of influential political players of Iran are co-operating with Rouhani -- or at least are silent,” Iranian journalist and political analyst Mojaba Mousavi told VOA.  “Everyone is waiting to see what his diplomacy will bring.”

But Mousavi warns that the U.S. government needs to be responsive to Rouhani’s overtures.

“It is now up to the American government to take its step to show it is honest in the process,” Mousavi said. “Ordinary people in Iran expect to see from the talks an ending of economic sanctions. If future negotiations fail to reach fair and acceptable results, it will be the best excuse for those political players in Tehran who are against any rapprochement with the U.S.”

Formal talks on Iran’s nuclear program will start in mid-October. At the weekend, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif indicated he is cautiously optimistic a deal can be achieved. That view is shared by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who says he hopes progress can be made quickly.

In Tehran, though, Zarif’s deputy, Abbas Araghchi, appeared to be trying to assure hardline factions that Iran will remain cautious in its dealings with Washington.

“A history of high tensions between Tehran and Washington will not go back to normal relations due to a phone call, meeting or negotiation,” the Iranian Fars news agency quoted him as saying. “We never trust America 100 percent.”

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs