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Middle East

Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, returns from Barack Obama talk to jeers – and cheers – in Tehran


The Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, was greeted by angry scenes on his return to Tehran from New York yesterday, with his convoy pelted with eggs, shoes and stones amid chants of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel".

But supporters of his controversial decision to break a 34-year silence between the leaders of Iran and America, by speaking to President Barack Obama on Friday, cheered and hailed him as a "lord of peace".

The 15-minute telephone call between the two men was the first conversation between the presidents of the two countries since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It came after last week's United Nations meeting in New York, and assurances made by Mr Rouhani about Iran's controversial nuclear programme. "We say explicitly that we will be transparent; we say explicitly that we will not build a bomb," he said.

The mixed reaction from the hundreds at Tehran airport was reflected across Iran. The call indicated Iran's growing strength, said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of Iran's national security and foreign policy commission.

Newspapers quoted former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani: "Rouhani's success in New York is the mark of the divine victory." But international relations professor Mohammad Ali Bassiri, in Etemad, warned: "Many countries, notably the Zionist regime, believe their interests will be jeopardised by a normalisation of relations between Iran and the [US] and will seek to stop it."

Mr Rouhani replaced hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said yesterday: "There is a very, very sharp change in attitude... we need to see how to translate that into facts."

But Yuval Steinitz, Israel's strategic affairs minister, accused Mr Rouhani of seeking to "smile his way to the bomb".

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu will hold talks with Mr Obama tomorrow to push for a tougher approach on Iran, which already suffers severe economic sanctions over its nuclear programme. And, in a speech on Tuesday to the UN, he will repeat his warnings of the threat posed by Iran to Israel and demand that action be taken.