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

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deali
X
July 07, 2015 12:02 PM
If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs