The Iranian regime blocked access to a virtual embassy hours after it was launched by the U.S. State Department in an effort to reach out to the Iranian public. “In accordance with the cybercrime law, access to this website is not possible,” read a notice to users in Iran trying to access the site.
The ’embassy’ went live on Tuesday of last week with a video message from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “This is a platform for us to communicate with each other, openly and without fear,” she said, noting that the purpose of the site is to help bridge the gap between the two peoples. The site offers policy statements in English and Farsi, information on obtaining visas for travel to the U.S., news from Voice of America, and links to share personal opinions.
The U.S. virtual embassy in Tehran
Iranian officials were quick to criticize the project, saying it shows that Washington regrets severing relations with Tehran. Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi warned Iranians that the website was “a bait to lure them into an espionage trap.” And parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani accused the so-called American Jewish lobby of being behind the project. Reaction from Iranians wasn’t positive, either. One Iranian student called it “a propaganda tool, telling us about U.S. culture.”
According to the State Department, even though the site is blocked Iranians will likely still access it by using software that can subvert the government filter. Millions of Iranians already use such software to access banned sites, including Facebook. That doesn’t mean the site will be effective, however. The State Department must do all it can to ensure it is delivering a compelling message to interested Iranians about America, its people, and culture of tolerance.