Clashes as Iranian President Returns to Tehran

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran was protected by bodyguards as he left the airport in Tehran on Saturday.        Atta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


TEHRAN — Hard-line protesters hurled eggs and a shoe at President Hassan Rouhani of Iran as he returned to Tehran on Saturday after supporters cheered him for reaching out to President Obama.

Mr. Rouhani was standing in his car, waving through the sunroof as he passed supporters at the airport. But moments later, security guards tried to shield the president with an umbrella as protesters threw eggs and a shoe at his car while others blocked the road by praying on the pavement.

“Long live Rouhani, man of change” the president’s supporters shouted, as a small contingent of police struggled to control the crowd.

The hard-liners responded by shouting “our people are awake and hate America.”

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.

The incident illustrates the tensions in Iran as Mr. Rouhani returned from a historic trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

His foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday, and Mr. Rouhani received a phone call from President Obama on Friday as he was on his way to Kennedy Airport, the first contact between an American and Iranian president since before the hostage crisis 30 years ago.

In comments after his arrival in Tehran, Mr. Rouhani elaborated on the call with Mr. Obama.

“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,” the semiofficial Fars News agency quoted Mr. Rouhani as saying.

“A call was made to our ambassador’s cellphone,” Mr. Rouhani said. “The conversation mostly focused on the nuclear issue.”

The Iranian president also explained why a much-anticipated meeting between him and President Obama did not take place.

“A meeting between the two presidents needs some preparation, and since the ground was not prepared, this meeting did not take place,” Fars quoted Mr. Rouhani as saying.

On Saturday morning, tensions spilled over outside the gates of the capital’s inner city airport.

Dozens of Iranian families and youths had gathered to welcome the president back to Tehran.

“Welcome, Lord of peace,’ read a placard held by a woman in a colorful scarf. A man holding a baby smiled as supporters chanted slogans in support of the president.

“I am here to show my support for Mr. Rouhani,” said Vida, 50, a fashion designer who declined to give her family name. Her daughter, wearing purple lipstick — Mr. Rouhani’s campaign color during the June elections — stood behind her, yelling “Long live reforms.”

Her mother smiled. “This time our country will really change,” she said, “I am sure of it.”

Down the road, about 50 protesters held placards saying, “we will never be humiliated,” and “talks to U.S. will not solve any problem.” All Iranian presidents have to deal with mysterious pressure groups that are supported by hard-line elements in Iran’s political establishment.

“We are here because we hate America and Iran will never have relations with America,” said a man who refused to be identified. “Rouhani must listen to us.”

Both groups clashed as Mr. Rouhani’s convoy came through the gates of the airport.

As the president’s car drove off one man shook his head in despair. “Why must everything always be destroyed?” he asked. “The whole world is looking at us, and now people are throwing eggs at our president.”