Middle East

Iran to work with rivals for peace - VP Masumeh Ebtekar

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Media captionVice-President Ebtekar on restoring trust with neighbours, fighting so-called Islamic State and the situation in Syria

Iran wants to work with other powers in the Middle East to promote peace following last month's nuclear deal, Vice-President Masumeh Ebtekar says.

In an interview with the BBC, Ms Ebtekar stressed that Iran had a right to defend itself, but that it had no intention of dominating the region.

Her country hoped to regain the trust of neighbouring states and co-operate to counter extremist groups, she added.

Iran has been accused of fomenting unrest throughout the Middle East.

It provides money and weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the militant Lebanese Shia Islamist group Hezbollah, and allegedly backs Yemen's rebel Zaidi Shia Houthi movement.

But it has also played a major role in the battle against jihadist militants from Islamic State (IS) in Iraq in the past year, mobilising Shia militias and sending advisers to help the Iraqi military.

'New era'

Ms Ebtekar, one of Iran's 12 vice-presidents, spoke to the BBC's Kim Ghattas during a week-long assignment in Iran - the longest time a BBC correspondent has been granted permission to report from there since June 2009, when the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparked mass protests.

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Image caption Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq are co-operating with the US in the battle against IS

In the interview, Ms Ebtekar said the recent deal that saw Iran agree to limit its sensitive nuclear activities in return for the end of crippling sanctions represented a "step forward" for the whole world.

"It means a new era of working with the world in terms of different dimensions of trade, cultural exchanges," she explained. "It means that Iran is going to be a more prominent player in this part of the world."

Analysis: Kim Ghattas, BBC News, Tehran

Our interview with Masumeh Ebtekar was our first appointment in Tehran when we arrived last week.

I wanted to meet her because she was closely associated with the dramatic hostage crisis at the American embassy in 1979 and her journey since then seemed to reflect that of the country itself.

The hostage crisis lasted 444 days and forever changed the course of Iran's history. Ms Ebtekar was the spokesperson for the students holding the hostages and she appeared regularly on television.

Today, she's in the reformist camp and speaks candidly about the need for progress and change, the need to meet the expectations of Iran's youth in the changing times.

When I asked her whether she'd ever imagined that the hostage taking would have had such an impact on history, she told me the students thought it would only last a few days.

She's never expressed regret for the event but she did tell me the students were eventually critical of some of the policies that followed.

Full interview with Iranian vice president

Eating saffron ice-cream in Tehran

The vice-president insisted that Iran would not stop supporting those "threatened by the policies of the Zionist regime", meaning Israel, and needed to be able to defend itself in a region where there were so many US military bases.

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Media captionVice-President Ebtekar dismisses criticism of the nuclear deal

But, she added, Iran also wanted to use its influence "to promote peace and stability".

"Our foreign minister is travelling in the region, because maintaining ties, actually restoring trust with our neighbours is an issue for us."

"We hope to be able to restore that trust working with different regional states to be able to stand firm against extremism, against terrorism, against Da'esh which is a terrible phenomenon," she added, using a pejorative term for IS based on the acronym of the group's former name in Arabic.

She revealed that Iran had been "trying to establish a dialogue" through diplomatic channels with regional Sunni power Saudi Arabia, which is leading an international coalition trying to drive back the Houthi rebels in Yemen and restore the country's exiled president.

"We have to resolve the war in Yemen which is devastating that nation."


Ms Ebtekar also said that the nuclear agreement gave reformists in Iran, like President Hassan Rouhani, "leverage" over other political groups in the country.

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Image caption Iran's parliament is to consider the nuclear agreement in the coming days

"I think that there is this internal debate and you can hear these different voices - some criticising the agreement, and some opposing it entirely," she added.

"But in general... the majority of the Iranian people view this as a successful step forward."

Hardliners in the Iranian parliament and the powerful Revolutionary Guards have criticised the nuclear agreement, but they are not expected to derail it.

The vice-president also rejected claims by critics of the nuclear deal in the US Congress that Iran should not be trusted to comply with the terms.

"I think that Iran has indicated very clearly that it intends to abide to this agreement, and I think that on the contrary there is a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that Iran stands by its commitments at the international level," she said.

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