The head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards publicly criticised Hassan Rouhani, the new president, yesterday (Monday) for accepting last week's historic phone call from Barack Obama that broke decades of official silence between the countries.
The criticism in Iran came as the growing rapprochement between the two was put under pressure by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who met Mr Obama in the White House to warn the US against being taken in by Iranian "sweet talk". The bitter rivals have been making common cause against a prospective deal that would see Iran give up its designs on a nuclear weapon in exchange for the lifting of sanctions and limited access to uranium enrichment for civilian purposes.
In Tehran, Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari said Mr Rouhani had been guilty of a "tactical error" in agreeing to speak to Mr Obama days after turning down the offer of a meeting with the US president on the sidelines of the United Nations. "Just as he refused to meet Obama, he should also have refused to speak with him on the telephone and should have waited for concrete action by the United States," Gen Jafari told the conservative Tasnimnews website.
"If we see errors being made by officials, the revolutionary forces will issue the necessary warnings,' he added, calling for the US to lift crippling economic sanctions and accept the country's right to a nuclear programme. In a sign of his determination to press ahead, Rouhani asked aviation authorities to study the possibility of resuming direct flights between Iran and the US, which have been suspended for more than 30 years. In Washington, Netanyahu used an Oval Office meeting with Obama to demand that the US remain "clear-eyed" about the sudden softening in Tehran, which he said remained committed to the destruction of Israel.
"We say in Hebrew that the bottom line is important - and that is that Iran does not get nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said, urging that sanctions should be tightened if Iran continued to enrich uranium as the planned negotiations in Geneva on Oct 15 and 16 got under way. Obama said the US shared Israel's determination that Iran should not develop nuclear weapons and that military options remained "on the table". He avoided the contentious issue of Iran's enrichment.
"It is absolutely clear that words are not sufficient," Mr Obama said, promising actions that would give the international community confidence that in fact Iran was meeting its international obligations fully and "are not in a position to have a nuclear weapon".
Netanyahu replied: "Iran's conciliatory words have to be matched by real actions - transparent, verifiable, meaningful actions. Iran is committed to Israel's destruction." Israel has support among hawks in Washington who are sceptical that after a decade of obfuscation over its nuclear programme, Iran's assurances can suddenly be taken at face value.