Iran nuclear: Rivals rally as Rouhani returns from UN

President Rouhani: [President Obama] "said 'we in the US acknowledge the nuclear rights of the Iranian people'"

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been met by hardline protesters chanting "Death to America" on his return from the UN forum in New York.

During his trip, President Rouhani had signalled a shift in tone on Iran's controversial nuclear programme.

This culminated in a phone call with US President Barack Obama - the first such top-level conversation in 30 years.

Hundreds of people gathered at Tehran airport, with supporters hailing the trip and opponents throwing shoes.

'US initiative'

An Agence France-Presse journalist said some 200-300 supporters gathered outside the airport to thank Mr Rouhani for his efforts.

US President Barack Obama: "The test will be meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions"

But opposite them were about 60 people shouting "Death to America" and "Death to Israel".

Mr Rouhani raised his hand to the crowds as he was driven off.

Analysis

The hardline protesters are angry at the prospect of a detente between Tehran and Washington, which they see as contrary to the principles of the Islamic Revolution.

Although a minority in number, the hardliners have always spoken out loudly against any rapprochement with the US. Their presence, with or without the support of the higher echelons of the regime, will serve to keep Mr Rouhani in check, reminding him that he cannot go too far in this on his own.

On the other hand, social media in Iran is awash with messages supporting the phone call between the two presidents. It may be that social media can now give Iranians in favour of change the kind of voice their hardline rivals have enjoyed in the past.

A New York Times reporter described the scene as chaotic, with dozens of hardliners hurling eggs and shoes at the president's convoy.

The Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA), said: "A crowd of young people and students gathered at Mehrabad airport to show support for the president's remarks and his stance during the trip to New York."

It said Ali Akbar Velayati, senior adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and a number of cabinet members also welcomed the president.

The call with Mr Obama was made just before Mr Rouhani left New York.

Mr Rouhani, quoted by the Fars news agency, said it was the US that had initiated the call, contradicting some reports in the US.

"Yesterday, as we were getting ready to head to the airport, the White House called and expressed willingness to set up a phone call between the American president and me," Fars quoted Mr Rouhani as saying upon arrival in Tehran.

Protesters at Tehran airport, 28 Sept The protesting hardliners see a US detente as contrary to the principles of the Islamic Revolution
Supporters at Tehran airport, 28 Sept The opponents were outnumbered by Mr Rouhani's supporters
Police at Tehran airport, 28 Sept Police form ranks to separate the two groups at Tehran airport
Hassan Rouhani in Tehran 29 Sept Reporters described the scene as chaotic

"On our way a call was made to our ambassador's cell phone. The conversation mostly focused on the nuclear issue," he was quoted as saying.

After the call, Mr Obama said: "While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution."

Start Quote

If Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani can deliver what he has been saying in New York - and if the world's big powers can reciprocate - then there's a real chance to make progress”

End Quote

Mr Rouhani, who is regarded as a moderate and was elected in June, has said he wants to reach a deal over the nuclear issue in three to six months.

He has also asserted that Iran does not seek a nuclear bomb, as Western powers have long suspected.

Mr Rouhani said initial discussions had taken place in an environment that was "quite different" from the past.

The US and China have said they expect Iran to respond to an existing offer by the US, Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany, who form a negotiating group known as the P5+1.

The group has asked Iran to halt production and stockpiling of uranium enriched to 20% - a step away from achieving a nuclear weapons capability.

It also demanded Iran shut down the Fordo underground enrichment facility, near Qom.

Substantive negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 are due to take place on 15 October, and Mr Rouhani said Iran would bring a plan to that meeting, though he did not give details.

Meanwhile, in another apparent indication of rapprochement between the US and Iran, it emerged that American officials had returned an ancient silver drinking cup to Tehran.

Persian drinking cup US officials said the griffin-shaped cup was "the premier griffin of antiquity"

The ceremonial, griffin-shaped cup dating back to the 7th Century BC was seized by custom officials in 2003 when an art dealer attempted to smuggle it into the US, officials said.

The artifact is believed to have been looted from a cave in north-western Iran. Its return reflected "the strong respect the United States has for the Iranian people", the statement said.

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