Livia Leu Agosti arrived in Iran this week as Berne's woman in Tehran, drawing criticism from Swiss conservative politicians and pleas for solidarity from Iranian women's rights campaigners.
She met the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, for talks on expanding bilateral economic ties and is expected to present her diplomatic credentials formally to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the coming weeks. Iran has on occasion rejected ambassadors' credentials.
The Iranian students' news agency ISNA, citing "informed sources", said yesterday that Leu Agosti had been accepted by the foreign ministry.
Her appointment puts her in charge of one of the most strategically placed diplomatic missions in Tehran. The Swiss embassy has represented US interests since 1980, when Washington severed diplomatic ties with Iran after the takeover of its embassy by Islamist revolutionaries. Swiss diplomats have frequently acted as a conduit for messages between the two countries.
Leu Agosti, 47, was head of the Swiss foreign ministry's Africa and the Middle East department. The US president-elect, Barack Obama, is expected to explore ways of engaging Iran's theocratic government. Leu Agosti told SonntagsZeitung newspaper her appointment struck a blow for "women's equality in a man's world".
But Swiss critics claim that her agreement to observe Iran's laws requiring women to wear the hijab represents surrender to radical Islam. Switzerland's foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, a vocal women's equality advocate and a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, provoked controversy during a visit to Tehran last year by wearing a headscarf to meet Ahmadinejad.
Exiled Iranian female campaigners have urged Leu Agosti to challenge Iran's official position that the headscarf is a "cultural" issue. In an open letter to Leu Agosti and Calmy-Rey, the international network of solidarity with the Iranian women's movement accused the government of practising "gender-specific apartheid" against women.
Leu Agosti has said she will wear the hijab to maintain her diplomatic status.
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