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After historic talk with Obama, Rouhani returns to cheers and protest in Iran

Hundreds have cheered Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's phone call with Barack Obama. But hard-liners threw eggs and shoes at his official car as it left the airport in Tehran upon his return from New York.

Media reported that hundreds welcomed President Rouhani home from his trip to the annual UN General Assembly, keen to see him make good on pledges of "constructive interaction" with the world to ease Iran's international isolation and win relief from punitive sanctions. They greeted the president with chants of "Rouhani we thank you" and "Iran calls for moderation" and held aloft portraits of him, the student news agency ISNA reported.

About 100 conservative hard-liners also appeared, shouting "Death to America" and "no compromise or surrender to our national interests."

The conversation was the first between presidents of the US and Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran. The two countries completely severed diplomatic relations in 1980. Obama confirmed the phone call had taken place when he spoke to reporters at a White House press conference later on Friday. The discussion was also confirmed in an official statement issued on the Iranian presidency's website.

'Don't be tired'

According to reports posted on Twitter, protesters pelted Rouhani's limousine with eggs and stones in anger over his direct contact with Obama. The semiofficial Mehr news agency ran pictures of some protesters banging the sides of Rouhani's car as it began to depart the airport. Mehr also reported that one protester threw his shoes at the vehicle, a gesture of deep insult in the Islamic faith.

The Iranian president began a charm offensive soon after taking office this summer. Just ahead of his visit to the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week, he indicated his government's willingness to enter negotiations over its disputed nuclear program. Rouhani said that Iran had no intention of developing a nuclear bomb and repeated previous claims that the country wants to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

Hundreds of Iranians at home and abroad have also posted messages of support on the Facebook page of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is tasked with reaching out to his US counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, to move the relations forward.

"You have made the people of Iran happy, especially (Rouhani's) phone call with Obama," read one. Another wrote, "We are proud of you." A third further encouraged him to actively keep up the good work: "Don't be tired. We are hopeful that one day there will be direct flights from Tehran to Washington."

According to US officials, Iran had requested the phone call in order to discuss resolving the standoff over its disputed nuclear program. However, in comments to journalists after his return, Rouhani indicated that the call had come at the initiative of the United States. Little other official reaction has come from Iran's leadership, aside from the comments of parliamentarian Alaeddin Boroujerdi.

"This shows that Iran's place in the world is of critical importance," Mehr quoted Boroujerdi, the head of parliament's foreign affairs and national security committee, as saying on Saturday. "That the president of America insists on a telephone call is a sign of sincerity."

mkg/slk (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)