(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department has websites for each of its embassies around the world. But Tuesday’s rollout of an embassy website for Iran was highly unusual.
Despite having no diplomatic relations with Iran, the United States has created a “virtual U.S. embassy Tehran.” The Virtual Embassy site can be viewed in English at http://iran.usembassy.gov and http://tehran.usembassy.gov; and in Persian at http://persian.iran.usembassy.gov.
The main page contains a video message from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explaining how the websites are an attempt to make up for missed opportunities for direct dialogue with the Iranian people. She says in the video, “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." Clinton herself announced the intent to create a first-of-its-kind site a month ago during Persian-language broadcasts of the VOA and the BBC.
Wendy Sherman, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, came to the briefing room Tuesday afternoon to announce the site’s launch.
"The virtual embassy is a hub in Persian and English for information not only on U.S. policy towards Iran but also a place to get insight into American culture and society, find visa applications, learn about opportunities to study in the United States,” Sherman said.
It’ll also be an interactive outreach through blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
She described the website as an effort to get around Iran’s attempts to impose “an electronic curtain by disrupting cellphones, the Internet and social media.”
Sherman acknowledged that the site might be jammed by Iran, but that it had been up and running for several hours with no jamming yet. She said one way to get around efforts to block Internet access was through the use of virtual private networks.
Sherman says the website will contain information for Iranians to get visa applications as well as gather information about how to come to the US. Because there aren’t any diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran, Iranians wishing to come to the U.S. must obtain a visas in a third country.
“So it'll still be somewhat arduous because we don't have diplomatic relations with Iran,” said Sherman. “But we should be able to be helpful to them a little bit more as a result of this website. And we certainly want to increase the number of students who are coming here, which has gone up, I think, about 20 percent over the last period of time. And we want to continue to ensure that more and more Iranian students can come here.”
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