President Barack Obama on Tuesday made a direct appeal to the Iranian people, saying there was "no reason for the United States and Iran to be divided from one another."
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In a video message marking the Persian new year, known as Nowruz, Obama said the U.S. seeks a dialogue with the Iranian people in order hear their views and understand their aspirations. And he sharply rebuked the Iranian government for setting up an "electronic curtain" around its people that the U.S. says blocks access to much of the outside world.
"Increasingly, the Iranian people are denied the basic freedom to access the information that they want," Obama said. "Instead, the Iranian government jams satellite signals to shut down television and radio broadcasts. It censors the Internet to control what the Iranian people can see and say. The regime monitors computers and cell phones for the sole purpose of protecting its own power."
The president has often sought to use the occasion of Nowruz to separate America's relationship with the Iranian people from its tumultuous dealings with the government in Tehran, which the U.S. and its allies say is defying its international obligations by pursuing an illicit nuclear program.
Fears of a preemptive Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities have added fresh urgency to those concerns in the first months of this year. The Obama administration opposes using military force against Iran at this point, preferring to rely on a steam of economic sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Despite the increasingly strict sanctions, Obama said in his Nowruz message that his administration wanted to make it easier for U.S. businesses to provide software and services in Iran that would make it easier for the Iranian people to use the Internet.
The Treasury Department issued new guidelines Tuesday allowing U.S. companies to export software and other materials to Iran that support Internet messaging services like Skype and Yahoo Messenger, Internet browsers and other online communications capabilities.
"The United States will continue to draw attention to the electronic curtain that is cutting the Iranian people off from the world," Obama said. "And we hope that others will join us in advancing a basic freedom for the Iranian people: the freedom to connect with one another, and with their fellow human beings."
Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and says it is not pursuing a bomb.
On Monday, Israeli President Shimon Peres sent greetings for the Persian new year to the Iranian people, urging them to "replace the corrupt regime and return to your glorious Persian heritage, a heritage of culture and values, not of bombs and missiles."