Bridging the gap: U.S. opens ‘virtual embassy’ in Iran

Yesterday, the U.S. State Department launched a new website which will serve as a “virtual embassy” to Iran without creating any official diplomatic ties with the government, AFP reports. Because of high tensions between Iran and the west (the U.K. kicked out Iran’s diplomats last week), this move is bolder now than it would have been when the plan was announced in October.

The State Department’s goal with the new website is to skip the middleman; the Iranian government is seen as oppressive by western nations and is not receptive to U.S. influence, but the people might be. The site is intended for the citizens of Iran, not its government.

“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,” [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] said in a video message.

“But today, we can use new technologies to bridge that gap and promote greater understanding between our two countries, and the peoples of each country, which is why we established this virtual embassy,” she said.

This isn’t the first virtual embassy on the internet. In 2005, Maldives opened a virtual embassy on Second Life, a wildly popular online life simulator where users could live through digital avatars. The Maldeves embassy wasn’t in place to bypass official relations, however. It was targeted at Second Life users in general, not those of a specific real-world nation.

The American site, designed to be resistant to cyber attacks (presumably from the Iranian government) is too young to have generated success or failure. It seems to be put together well and achieve its target of being America’s hand in Iran, assuming Iranians can access it. Despite Clinton closing out her video message with “I look forward to hearing from you,” the site lacks interactivity features, so it’s unclear if she hopes to hear from citizens via Facebook and Twitter or to just call her up at the office. Otherwise, it seems to have a wealth of information that anyone in Iran (Iranian or otherwise) might want to learn from America.



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