Hillary Clinton: US to Launch ‘Virtual Embassy’ to Reach Iranians

The Obama administration is looking to launch a “virtual embassy” online to reach out to Iranians because it does not have a physical embassy in Tehran, Secretary Clinton said today.

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” today. 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 and will include information on U.S. policies. She said the United States wants to increase the number of Iranians studying in the U.S.

A State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in accordance with diplomatic protocol, said the website will be available in English and Persian and will resemble other U.S. embassy websites, but with a disclaimer that the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Iran.

The United States broke off relations with Iran shortly after the 1979 revolution and neither country has an embassy in the other’s capital.

Clinton noted today 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 at from the same mentality,” she told the BBC show “Nowbateh Shoma,” which means “Your Turn.” “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.”

“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, cell phones,” she told VOA. “And they also have a relentless campaign going to follow up on anybody they find who’s expressing themselves in any way, which is sometimes hard to understand, that they consider subversive.”

The State Department official acknowledged that this new website is likely to be blocked or censored, but said the U.S. is helping Iranians get around the restrictions. In her interviews today, 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 50 years,” she said in the VOA interview. “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.”

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,” she told the BBC. “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.”