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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs