More than three decades after the bricks-and-mortar U.S. embassy in Tehran was shuttered and diplomatic relations with Iran were severed following the Islamic revolution and hostage crisis, the Obama administration has opened a virtual embassy for Iran to encourage dialogue with the Iranian people.

The web-based "embassy" went online Tuesday with versions in English and Farsi explaining why the administration has chosen a virtual diplomatic mission to further expand its effort to reach out to Iranians even as President Barack Obama's attempts to engage the government in Tehran over its nuclear program have yet to succeed.

Earlier this year, the State Department launched a Farsi-language Twitter account and Facebook page aimed at providing news to Iranians about U.S. government policies and encouraging feedback. The virtual embassy is intended to compliment the social media sites.

"This website is not a formal diplomatic mission, nor does it represent or describe a real U.S. embassy accredited to the Iranian government," the State Department said in an introductory note. "But, in the absence of direct contact, it can work as a bridge between the American and Iranian people."

The note lamented that the embassy hostage crisis - in which 52 Americans were held hostage by Islamist militants and students for 444 days from Nov. 1979 to Jan. 1981 - and breakdown in U.S.-Iran relations had cost America a valuable back-and-forth with ordinary Iranians.

"While the world knows that the United States lost an embassy in Iran, in fact, we lost more: we were deprived of a relationship with the Iranian people, access to Iranian society, and thousands of daily interactions between American and Iranian citizens," the department said.

In a video message, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the websites were an attempt to make up for the loss of dialogue between Americans and Iranians since the closure of the physical embassy in Tehran.

"Because the United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, we have missed some important opportunities for dialogue with you, the citizens of Iran," she said. "This is a platform for us to communicate with each other - openly and without fear - about the United States, about our policies, our culture, and the American people."

In addition to the introductory note and Clinton's message, the websites offer links to interviews Clinton has done with Farsi-language radio stations, Obama's Persian New Year Address to the Iranian people, various news stories along with information about obtaining U.S. visas and studying in the United States.

Last week, Republican candidate for the U.S. 2012 presidential elections Michelle Bachman told supporters that, following the attack on the British Embassy in Tehran on Tuesday, she would also close the U.S. embassy in Iran.

Having expressed her support for the British move to remove all its diplomatic staff from Iran, and to expel the Iranian diplomatic corps from the U.K., Bachmann said, “That’s exactly what I would do [if I were president]. We wouldn’t have an embassy in Iran. I wouldn’t allow that to be there,” ABC News reported.