In the midst of rising tensions between Iran and the West over the country’s suspected bid to obtain nuclear weapons, the US State Department launched a virtual embassy for Iran yesterday. The stated purpose of the site is to foster a renewed relationship between the people of the United States and the people of Iran.
There have been no formal diplomatic relations between the two nations since the revolution of 1979, which overthrew the US-friendly Shah of Iran and instituted a hardline Islamic regime ruled by Ayatollah Khomeini. During the conflict revolutionaries stormed the US Embassy in Tehran, taking its staff hostage. While some hostages – notably women and African Americans – were released shortly after the takeover, the remaining 52 hostages were held for 444 days. After a failed rescue attempt, the hostages were released on January 20, 1981, immediately following the completion of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration speech. The US has not had formal diplomatic relations since the hostage crisis ended.
The state department was careful to point out that this new virtual embassy “is not a formal diplomatic mission, nor does it represent or describe a real U.S. Embassy accredited to the Iranian Government.” Rather, the goal is to open lines of communication between the people of Iran and those of America. The site is critical of the Iranian government’s attempts to cut off its people from the outside world via the internet. The virtual embassy is meant to undermine that effort by providing the Iranian people a direct path to information about America.
The government of Iran, meanwhile, wasted no time in responding to the site. In a move that should surprise no one, the country’s internet censor blocked access to the embassy, which it accused of being a tool for recruiting spies and creating division among the Iranian people.
Iran’s government-run Fars News Agency called the closing “a decisive reaction by the Iranian authorities to the latest plots hatched by Washington against the Iranian nation.”