Iranian President Hassan Rouhani returned Saturday after his historic chit-chat with President Obama while in New York for the U.N. General Assembly. Unfortunately, he was met with mixed reactions, as a small group of troublemakers nearly ruined the moment.
Advancing U.S. relations by 34 years with a ten-to-fifteen minute phone call is no small feat. When Rouhani got off the plane at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport, two groups were there to greet him. Supporters chanting "long live Rouhani, man of change," and "thank you Rouhani," on one side. A group of hardline Iranians chanting "death to America," and "our people are awake and hate America," on the other.
The president waved triumphantly from his car's sunroof to his supporters. But once the other group threw stones, eggs, and a shoe at Rouhani, he ducked. Security pulled him inside and made a hasty exit. Some fighting broke out, and police worked to separate the two groups. In the chaos, someone was almost run over, according to The New York Times:
Security guards eventually pulled Mr. Rouhani back inside his car as it sped off, leaving supporters and opponents behind, some fighting with each other. One protester was almost run over after he threw himself in front of Mr. Rouhani’s car.
Rouhani supporters vastly outnumbered the hardliners, though. Lebanon's The Daily Star estimates there were about 200 supporters and 60 hardliners in the crowd. The Washington Post reports the troublemakers were Basij militia members.
The reactions were clearly the result of the impromptu phone call Rouhani had with U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday, the first time leaders of the two countries have spoken since 1979. Iranians are having trouble coming to terms with this new, moderate president who is making an effort to diplomatically improve the country's relationship with its oldest adversary. "Yesterday we said death to America, now we’re supposed to say hello to America? That’s not easy," Ali Jaffarian, a 47-year-old Iranian veteran, told the Post. Others are optimistic about Rouhani's new strategy. "This time our country will really change," a Rouhani supporter told the Times. "I am sure of it."