Iranian press hails end of 35-year taboo

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Iranian newspapers Saturday hailed the first contact between presidents Hasan Rouhani and Barack Obama but warned that opponents like arch-foe Israel would seek to torpedo the historic opening to Washington.

"It's the end of a 35-year taboo," trumpeted reformist daily Arman, referring to the rupture of diplomatic relations following the hostage-taking at the U.S. embassy in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"The world caught unawares," it crowed.

"International media in shock over the telephone call," it said, referring to the timing of the call as Rouhani headed to the airport after a visit to the United Nations where the media focus had been on the lack of a historic meeting.

The Etemad newspaper carried a photomontage of Rouhani and Obama side by side. "Historic contact on way home," read a banner headline taking up the whole front page.

But in an opinion piece international relations professor Mohammad Ali Bassiri warned that rapprochement between Tehran and Washington would face huge resistance both from Israel and from domestic opponents.

"These contacts and meetings between Iran and the United States have extremist opponents and both sides must be very careful," Bassiri wrote.

"Alongside domestic extremists hostile to an improvement in Iran-U.S. relations, there are also opponents in the region.

"Many countries, notably the Zionist regime, believe their interests will be jeopardised by a normalisation of relations between Iran and the United States and will seek to stop it."

Several newspapers carried the reaction of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, widely seen as Rouhani's mentor, who hailed the incumbent's decision to speak to, but not meet, his U.S. counterpart.

"Rouhani's success in New York is the mark of the divine victory," Rafsanjani said.

"The fact that Obama asked our president to meet him but the latter said it's too early and we must prepare the ground is the very triumph that God promised us," he added.

A number of newspapers also carried the response of the commander of the Qods Force of the elite Revolutionary Guards, the covert operations unit at the centre of U.S. allegations of Iranian sponsorship of terrorism in the region.

"The respect shown by the world to President Rouhani is the fruit of the nation's resistance," General Ghassem Soleimani said.

Many newspapers carried front-page photographs of a smiling Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Sharif and Secretary of State John Kerry at a meeting between Iran and the major powers on its controversial nuclear programme.

It was left to the ultra-conservative Kayhan newspaper to sound a negative note, criticising Washington for its comments that the new tone from Iran did not go far enough and that its words needed to be matched by deeds.

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