TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's president has named as vice president a hardliner-turned-reformer who was spokeswoman for hostage-takers at the U.S. Embassy after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, an adviser said.
The selection of Masoomeh Ebtekar as vice president for environmental affairs underscores how many staunch backers of the overthrow of Iran's Western-backed monarchy more than 30 years ago now side with moderates.
Their stance includes the belief that the ruling clerics have become too oriented toward battling the West and need to adopt more international outreach in a globalized world. Such figures as opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi – both under house arrest since early 2011 – were strong supporters of the Islamic Revolution before pushing for reform.
Ebtekar, 52 is fluent in English from her years living in the U.S. as a schoolgirl in Philadelphia and Massachusetts in 1963-69 when her father was studying in the United States.
She was a main spokeswoman during the 444-day hostage standoff in Tehran, and was referred to as "Mary" by the foreign media. She made frequent appearances on American television as a translator for the hostage takers, who held a total of 52 captives until January 1981. She later married Mohammad Hashemi, one of the militant students reportedly involved in the hostage-taking.
In interviews, Ebtekar has defended the embassy takeover in the context of the revolution's fervor and Iran's historical grievances against Washington for backing a coup in 1953 that toppled a democratically elected government and reinstalled the pro-Western shah. She also dismissed as "superficial" last year's American film "Argo," about a secret plan to rescue Americans who slipped out of the embassy compound after it was stormed.
Ebtekar, who has a doctorate in immunology, was Iran's first woman vice president under reformist President Mohammad Khatami from 1997 to 2005. She later served on the Tehran Municipal Council and became a respected scholar in environmental studies.
During her work on the city council, her comments opposing rules requiring women to wear the Islamic veil in Iran prompted hardliners to criticize her. Ebtekar herself wears a full, head-to-toe veil.
A mother of two, she is the second woman on the panel of vice presidents picked by President Hasan Rouhani.
In August, Rouhani appointed another woman, Elham Aminzadeh, as his vice president in charge of legal affairs. Rouhani had promised a greater role for women during his presidential campaign.
Ebtekar also has a long history of working as a cultural figure. In 1981, Khatami selected her as editor-in-chief of the state-run English daily newspaper Kayhan International, where she served until 1983.
In 1991, she co-founded the Institute for Women's Studies and Research. Since 1992, she has been the license holder and managing director of the journal Farzaneh Journal for Women's Studies and Research. Ebtekar also led women's rights NGO delegations abroad and was elected president of Iran's Network of Women's NGOs.
In 2006 the United Nations Environment Program named her one of seven Champions of the Earth, calling her a prominent and "inspirational" environmental leader who has made a regional impact at policy level.