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

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    South Korea Says North Korea Moving Closer to Rocket Launch

    In phone call, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree that Pyongyang's move would be 'provocative'

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.