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On the Radar
As the first female vice president of Iran and the head of Iran’s Environmental Protection Organization, Masoumeh Ebtekar may be the most powerful woman in Iran.
But long before her current role, Americans came to know Ebtekar in 1979 as “Mary,” the English-speaking spokeswoman for the Iranian student group that overran the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage.
Thirty-six years after the hostage crisis, Ebtekar said Iranian society is open to dialogue and understanding with the American people, but that there is a persistent distrust of the U.S. government, specifically as it relates to the war against the militant group ISIS.
“Well, I think there's a lot of skepticism about the role of the United States in dealing with ISIS, because the support they initially provided for ISIS in Syria strengthened this group at that time, and then also other reasons to believe this is not a genuine group, it somehow instigated or created by, I don’t know, a certain intelligence agency,” Ebtekar said, presumably alluding to the CIA, during an interview in Tehran.
Ebtekar went on to say that there needs to be a shared goal of raising awareness about “the true face of Islam” as one means of countering the ideology of ISIS.
“The reality is that we need to work, all with genuine intentions, and part of that is cultural, part of that is working with the young people, introducing them to the true face of Islam,” Ebtekar said. “The attempts that we see in certain countries to promote a very negative image of Muslims, of Islamic countries, that Islamophobia or Iranophobia, that will change into an attitude of dialogue and understanding.”
“On the Radar” made a rare visit to Iran last week as the country celebrated the 36th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. And while many Iranians chanted “death to America” during the festivities, Ebtekar explained that the chants are directed at the government -- and not the people -- of the United States.
“That's death to the imperialistic policies that the United States had, the government had against not only Iran but many countries in the region -- militaristic approach, the intervention, the very negative image that the American government created for itself,” Ebtekar said. “But in dealing with the American people, in dealing with the society, I think that Iranians are very open, and human contact, dialogue and understanding between the two nations, I think that is very necessary.”
She also praised what she said is an increasingly “vibrant civil society” within Iran, saying that the current government led by President Hassan Rouhani supports greater freedom of expression and dissent.
“We have a very vibrant civil society now,” she said. “The government supports the civil society contrary to the previous government that didn’t like to hear their voices. We like to hear their voices even though sometimes it's full of criticism. Sometimes it's very bitter, but I think it's very important for us to listen to those voices.”
Asked to identify the single issue that most concerns her for Iran’s future, Ebtekar pointed to the challenge of climate change.
“The fact that countries in West Asia are experiencing long terms of drought, low precipitation and high temperatures … these are very difficult conditions for a country that is rapidly expanding in terms of economic growth, urbanization,” Ebtekar said.
For more of the interview with Ebtekar, and to get a rare look inside Iran, check out this episode of “On the Radar.”
ABC News’ Brian Hartman, Afshin Abtahi, Tom Thornton and Ali Dukakis contributed to this episode.