TEHRAN, Iran — Dozens of protesters hurled eggs and at least one shoe at President Hassan Rouhani as he returned to Tehran on Saturday after a groundbreaking phone call with President Barack Obama and other outreach to the West at an annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations.
The protest — coming even as supporters gathered at the airport to cheer his diplomatic outreach — quickly laid bare the political fissures in Iran over whether to engage with the United States and the challenges Rouhani and his aides face as they try to have international sanctions over the country's nuclear program lifted.
Rouhani was standing in his car, waving through the sunroof as he passed supporters, when opponents began to pelt the vehicle.
"Long live Rouhani, man of change!" the president's backers shouted as a small police contingent struggled to control the crowd of about 200 that seemed mostly to be of Rouhani supporters.
The hard-liners responded by shouting, "Our people are awake and hate America!"
Security guards eventually pulled Rouhani back inside his car as it sped off, leaving supporters and opponents behind, some pushing and shoving one another. One protester was almost run over after he threw himself in front of Rouhani's car.
Analysts expressed surprise that the protest at the airport was allowed, given tight controls over public gatherings, and it raised the possibility that some in the country's opaque political hierarchy were sending a message of displeasure over last week's sudden turn of events.
The phone call with Obama came just days after Rouhani skipped a luncheon at the United Nations where the two leaders had been expected to shake hands. But a meeting Thursday between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was described as constructive, U.S. officials said.
Many Iranians, including many at the airport Saturday, have appeared anxious for some outreach to the West as strict sanctions have crippled their economy.
"Welcome, lord of peace," read a placard held by one woman.