Shoe thrown as Rouhani home after historic Obama call
29 September, 2013
TEHRAN: A shoe was thrown at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's motorcade on Saturday as he arrived home to a mixed reception after his historic call with Barack Obama, an AFP correspondent reported.
Iranian newspapers hailed the first contact with a US president in more than three decades as the ending of a long taboo. The Etemad newspaper carried a front-page photomontage of Rouhani and Obama side by side.
"Historic contact on way home," read its banner headline. But Rouhani's 15-minute conversation with the leader of a country long derided as the "Great Satan" was too much for some hardliners.
Nearly 60 gathered outside Tehran's Mehrabad Airport, chanting "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" as his motorcade passed.
They were outnumbered by 200 to 300 supporters of the president chanting "Thank you Rouhani", who were separated from the protesters by police. The shoe was thrown as Rouhani stood up through the sunroof of his car to acknowledge the crowd. It failed to hit its target.
There have been no diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington since radical students took hostages at the US embassy in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution.
Dubbed the "nest of spies" by the regime, the old embassy site is the scene of annual commemorations which have been the focal point for hard-line anti-US sentiment. The airport protest contrasted with the plaudits Rouhani received from the Iranian press for the historic telephone call. Rouhani told reporters at the airport the call had been Obama's initiative.
"We were going to the airport, when I was informed that the White House had called the cellphone of our ambassador to the UN," his office quoted him as saying. "I was informed President Obama wanted to speak to me for a few minutes."
Iranian newspapers crowed that Rouhani had wrong-footed the world's media by taking the US president's call after coverage of his keenly awaited visit to the United Nations in New York had focused on the lack of a face-to-face meeting.
"The world caught unawares," crowed reformist daily Arman. "International media in shock over the telephone call."
The call was approved by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in the Islamic republic, according to a top lawmaker.
"Rouhani had obtained the necessary authorisation from the establishment for contact with Obama," Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, spokesman for the influential foreign policy commission, told the parliament's website.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has described Rouhani as a "wolf in sheep's clothing", is to meet Obama on Monday. Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, widely seen as Rouhani's mentor, said he had pulled off a diplomatic coup by speaking to — but not meeting — Obama. The commander of the covert operations unit of the elite Revolutionary Guards, the Qods force, said the attention lavished on Rouhani in New York was a vindication of Iran's tough defence policy. "The respect shown by the world to President Rouhani is the fruit of the nation's resistance," General Ghassem Soleimani was quoted as saying.