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A new website created by the US to reach out to the citizens of Iran was censored just hours after it launched.
A 'virtual embassy' set up by the US was blocked in Iran soon after it launched on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Iranian users attempting to access the website on Wednesday were redirected to a collection of links to Iranian news, culture and religious websites, or greeted with a message in Persian that read "In accordance with computer crime laws, access to this website is not possible."
The virtual embassy provides information to Iranians about visas, education opportunities, and US policies and reports. There is also a section called Open Societies, which according to the site, offers
"...links to stories that underscore the value of free expression, accountable governments, transparency, access to information and the internet and cultural exchange – many things the Iranian government has expressed deep concerns about. We think you should see alternative viewpoints and make up your own mind."
The US has not had an official embassy in Tehran since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, when its embassy was attacked and 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. The US has since isolated Iran, claiming it is conducting nuclear activities and working to build an atomic bomb, which Iran denies.
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"Because the United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, we have missed some important opportunities for dialogue with you, the citizens of Iran," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a video welcome message on the site's homepage. The US Department of State also launched Persian twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts earlier this year, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"Outreach efforts like these are essential to bringing information and alternative viewpoints to the Iranian people, especially as the Iranian regime continues its efforts to control the flow of information," said State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland, according to DipNote, the Department of State's official blog. "This Virtual Embassy is just the first of many ways in which we will seek to challenge the Iranian regime's efforts to place an electronic curtain of surveillance, satellite jamming and online filtering around its people, and I look forward to enhancing our communication efforts directly to the Iranian people."
"The opening of the virtual embassy by the U.S. is a new deception by the Great Satan," Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, was quoted as saying in Iranian news reports, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The launch of the virtual embassy comes a week after the UK's embassy in Iran was stormed and British diplomats fled the country, bringing Iranian relations with Europe to a new low, Reuters reported.
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Iranians seeking to access the US embassy site will still be able to do so using a VPN, or virtual private network, which allows users to sidestep the government block and is often used by the country's millions of Facebook users, Reuters reported.
"I am a firm believer that normal relations between the US and Iran will be a blessing for this region as whole. So I welcome this as a first step for normalizing relations," Yousuf Hashmi from Karachi, Pakistan, commented on the US Department of State's Facebook page.