Iran Blocks U.S. 'Virtual Embassy' Site a Day After Its Launch

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says 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; White House condemns the move.

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The Iranian government filtered and blocked a "virtual embassy" of the United States for Iran on Wednesday, a day after its launch.

The site was open and accessible on its first day, likely because of a religious holiday in Iran, but was blocked early Wednesday after public organizations resumed work.

The English verson of the virtual embassy, December 6, 2011.Credit: Haaretz

The U.S. online embassy initiative was first disclosed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an interview with the BBC's Farsi language channel.

In the interview, Clinton said the U.S. planned to set up a "virtual embassy" by the end of the year to improve Iranian understanding of the U.S. and to advise Iranians on tourist and student visas.

Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani said shortly afterwards that the online embassy plan would fail, and accused the Jewish lobby in the U.S. of being behind the project.

"Such efforts should not be taken seriously as they reflect solely the lack of U.S. political awareness that such moves would merely strengthen unity in Iran," Larijani said.

"These efforts are also aimed at covering up internal problems in the Democratic Party before the U.S. presidential elections next year," the speaker added.

Deputy state Department spokesman Mark Toner said in Wednesday's briefing: "We've been very clear that this is an effort, because we don't have a brick-and-mortar embassy on the ground in Tehran, to find ways to engage with the Iranian people, frankly, to talk more about what the United States is all about, what our policies are, as well as information about travel here. How that meddles in their domestic affairs, I'm not quite clear."

Asked if the US would accept Iranian "virtual Embassy" in Washington, Toner said: "They (Iranians) are welcome to it."

The White House condemned the move. In a statement released Wednesday it said, "We condemn the Iranian governments efforts to deny their people the freedom to access Americas recently launched Virtual Embassy Tehran. Through this action, the Iranian government has once again demonstrated its commitment to build an electronic curtain of surveillance and censorship around its people."

"The United States remains steadfast in our commitment to a dialogue with the Iranian people based upon mutual interests, mutual respect, and admiration for a great and ancient civilization. The Iranian government should explain to its own people why it fears their ability to access the information that they choose," the statement said.

Iran and the U.S. have had no diplomatic ties and no embassies in each other's capitals for more than three decades. Switzerland represents the U.S. in Tehran, while Iran is represented in Washington by Pakistan.



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