DUBAI: The head of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards force said on Monday President Hassan Rouhani's telephone call with U.S. President Barack Obama came too soon, but welcomed his address at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week.
About 100 conservative hardliners appeared at Mehrabad airport in Tehran on Saturday as Rouhani returned to Iran to show their anger over the telephone call, shouting "Death to America". Hundreds of Rouhani's supporters cheered his return.
The divisions hint at the challenge Rouhani faces in winning over anti-Western hardliners, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which is dominated by Islamic ideologues and regarded as one of the most influential centres in Iran's power-structure.
"On his trip, the president of the Islamic Republic took powerful and appropriate stances especially in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly," Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the IRGC, told Tasnim news agency.
"It was better that no time was given for a face-to-face meeting with Obama and he (Rouhani) should have turned down a phone conversation until after the American government has shown its sincerity (towards Iran)."
While an anticipated handshake between Rouhani and Obama at U.N. headquarters failed to materialise, they held a 15-minute telephone call on Friday, capping the end of a momentous week of diplomatic activity for the Iranian president.
So far influential Iranian figures have welcomed Rouhani's overtures for "constructive interaction" at the United Nations, following the endorsement offered by Iran's most powerful man, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei earlier this month.
The public are also supportive of his attempts to build bridges with the world and find relief from sanctions that have wrought havoc across the Iranian economy.