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Entries in Virtual Embassy (4)

Friday
Dec092011

US: 'Virtual Embassy' Still Getting Through Despite Iran’s Censors

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department is pushing back against Iran’s claim that it has successfully blocked the new U.S. “Virtual Embassy,” a website that aims to reach out to Iranian citizens, saying that blocked does not mean the site is inaccessible.

“There is no question, as it passes 750,000 page views, Virtual Embassy Tehran remains open for business. The Iranian people have found creative ways to get around the regime’s attempts to block basic information about travel and study in the United States,” Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said in a statement to ABC News.

One of those ways around the government censors involves the use of virtual private networks, or VPNs, which are popular in Iran and allow internet users to mask their origin and foil internet controls.

U.S. officials cite figures they believe show Iranians are using technology like VPNs to access the site. For example, they have seen traffic to the Farsi language site from countries without large Persian populations. That, they say, suggests the users are actually in Iran and are masking their origin by accessing the site through a third country’s servers. Officials do concede, however, it’s only their best guess because by design it is impossible to say for sure who is using a VPN to access the site.

The department says it has already received more than 1,300 questions submitted in Farsi through the website, ranging from questions on how to obtain a visa and study in the United States to policy questions asking why the U.S. has imposed sanctions on Iran. Officials say staff are already at work responding to the inquiries.

The State Department launched the Virtual Embassy on Tuesday morning, but within 12 hours Iranian authorities added it to the millions of websites it blocks. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry reportedly denounced the site, saying it meddles in Iran’s domestic affairs.

Among the millions of blocked websites are social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Though Facebook is officially banned in Iran, the government there has admitted millions of Iranians use the site. U.S. officials point to Facebook’s popularity in Iran as evidence that technology like VPNs will ensure Iranians have access to Virtual Embassy.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec072011

Iran Blocks US 'Virtual Embassy'

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. State Department's attempt to establish a means for direct dialogue with Iranian people did not last long. Within 12 hours of its official launch Tuesday, Iranian authorities had blocked the U.S. Virtual Embassy Tehran.

The site, which offered information about U.S. policies, culture and visa applications as well as opportunities for U.S. study, was meddling in Iran's domestic affairs, said a spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, as reported by the semi-official Fars news agency.

The English and Farsi versions of the site went live Tuesday at 6 a.m. EST, but both were blocked in Iran by 5 p.m.

On Wednesday, the State Department said they expected as much.

“We are fairly confident that we're able to recover from these kinds of temporary compromises of the site. You know, of course, the fact that they would -- in fact, the Iranian government would attempt to block access to a site that, as we walked you through yesterday, does nothing more other than offer information about how to travel to the United States and opportunities for travel to the United States, as well about our policies, in a very transparent and straightforward manner, speaks volumes about their trust in their own citizens and then -- and closing them off to the outside world,” deputy spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

The State Department says they have data showing that some in Iran are still able to access the sites. Many Iranians use virtual private networks, or VPNs, which route a user’s Internet access through another location, thereby bypassing the state controls. The State Dept. doesn’t, however, have any figures to back it up, mainly because by design it is hard to track from where a user is employing a VPN.

“For example, there's millions of Iranians who have access to Facebook and they'll also be able to use these so-called VPNs to access this site,” Toner said.

Within 24 hours both sites saw about half-a-million hits, most from outside Iran. The English version saw 2,001 unique users coming from within Iran, and the Farsi version saw 7,770.

“We've also been in contact with our firewall team at the hosting company and have seen no indication that the site's been violated,” Toner said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Tuesday
Dec062011

US Launches a 'Virtual US Embassy -- Tehran'

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(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.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct262011

Secretary Clinton: US to Launch 'Virtual Embassy' to Reach Iranians

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration is looking to launch a “virtual embassy” online to reach out to Iranians since it does not have a physical embassy in Tehran, Secretary of State Clinton said Wednesday.
 
Clinton made the announcement in interviews with two Persian-language television shows, the first time she’s spoken to Persian television as America’s top diplomat.
 
“My goal in speaking with you today is to clearly communicate to the people of Iran -- particularly the very large population of young people -- that the U.S. has no argument with you,” she told the popular Voice of America program Parazit Wednesday. The show is modeled on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, but the interview was serious and featured questions submitted by viewers.
 
The website is scheduled to launch by the end of the year, Clinton said. It will offer guidance to Iranian students and others who want to apply for visas to visit the United States. She said the U..S wants to increase the number of Iranians studying in the United States. It’s unclear what other services the website will offer, but Clinton noted Wednesday that Iran is one of the most effective countries when it comes to restricting, blocking and monitoring Internet access.
 
“We have also seen the regime in Iran impose what amounts to an electronic curtain, it’s the 21st-century equivalent of the barbed wire and the fences and the dogs that the old Soviet Union used, because they come from the same mentality. They want totalitarian control over what you learn and what you say and even what you think and how you worship and all the things that go to the heart of human dignity and human freedom,” she told the BBC show Nowbateh Shoma, which means “Your Turn.”
 
“It’s our opinion that the regime has the most effective ongoing efforts to both disrupt the Internet online communication and more traditional forms of communication, obviously as well, like telephones, cellphones. And they also have a relentless campaign going to follow up on anybody they find who’s expressing themselves in anyway, which is sometimes hard to understand, that they consider subversive,” she told Voice of America.
 
Clinton confirmed that the U.S. is providing technology to Iranians that would allow them to circumvent those controls, but did not elaborate.
 
Clinton reiterated the Obama administration’s willingness to engage with the government of Iran, despite its nuclear ambitions and the recent alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington.
 
“We think there are reasons for regret on both sides, as to what has happened in the past fifty years. But we would like to forge a new relationship. President Obama was very committed to doing that, so far he hasn’t received a particularly positive response,” she said in the Voice of America interview.
 
Clinton also defended U.S. sanctions in Iran as an effective means of trying to change the Iranian regime’s behavior.
 
“We have always pursued a two-track policy, we are prepared to engage if there is willingness on the other side, and we use sanctions and the international community supports the use of sanctions to try to create enough pressure on the regime that they do have to think differently about what they are doing,” she told the BBC.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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