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New Iranian Leader Finds Strength In Womanhood

Sun., Sept. 14, 1997, midnight

Massoumeh Ebtekar’s face lights up when she lists the reasons she was chosen to become Iran’s most powerful woman.

The first female vice president of the Islamic Republic says her strategy of outdoing rivals in male-dominated Iran has been to “stand on my womanhood,” and use the gifts God gave women.

Ebtekar, 37, is one of seven vice presidents named by President Mohammad Khatami - who, with backing from female and young voters, beat a hard-line conservative rival by nearly 3-to-1 in May’s vote.

Sitting wrapped head-to-toe in a traditional black chador, Ebtekar spoke with The Associated Press - in the fluent English she learned as a child in the United States.

Her appointment as vice president in charge of the environment, she said, is a result of the 1979 Islamic revolution’s greater integration of women into social and political life.

She admits she will face resistance for “just being a woman,” but feels the climate now is right for Iranian women to achieve new goals.

The differences between men and women “are very delicate,” she said.

“Maybe men resort to power when they want to resolve a conflict. But women resort to logic - they try to somehow compromise,” she said. “I think that women should be proud of those blessings that they have.”

Ebtekar, a professor with a Ph.D. in immunology from an Iranian university, has an unenviable task before her as head of the environment: Iran’s capital long was considered among the world’s most polluted cities.

With a staff of 3,000 at the Environment Department, she says her priority is to encourage research and sensitize people - especially the young - to “engage them directly in the issue of preserving the environment.”

Ebtekar worries about dumping into the Caspian Sea from former Soviet republics and damage to the Gulf from oil spills in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. She said she also fears problems may arise from Western fleets - including U.S. ships - that still ply the Gulf.

Ebtekar spent six years in the United States. She was 3 years old when her parents went to Pennsylvania for university study, but she has never returned to the country Iranians commonly refer to as “The Great Satan.”

Ebtekar stressed that as a mother of two boys, she is especially qualified to be an environmentalist.

“I have a particular perspective on the future generations,” she said. “We should give them the right to look to a brighter future.

“This goes back a lot to being a mother … the creator.”

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