By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
WASHINGTON -- In her first-ever interview with the Persian-language media, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced that the United States would soon launch a "virtual Tehran embassy" aimed at connecting with the Iranian people.
Clinton made the announcement on Voice of America's (VOA) Persian TV and also in an interview with the BBC's Persian Service.
"What we're going to do, despite the fact we do not have diplomatic relations, is I'm going to announce the opening of a virtual embassy in Tehran. The website will be up and going at the end of the year," Clinton said.
"We're going to continue to reach out, particularly to students, and encourage that you come back and study in the United States," she added. "And we're going to look for other people-to-people exchanges that will try to develop the relationships that I think are so important between the American people and the Iranian people, for the 21st century."
Clinton didn't provide details as to how the "virtual embassy" would function amid the Iranian government's strict censorship of the Internet.
Former U.S. Embassy in Tehran
Washington and Tehran have not had diplomatic relations since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Reaching Out To 'The Iranian People'
In her interview with VOA's Persian television, Clinton spoke of Washington's desire to have an ongoing dialogue with the people of Iran and to support their "legitimate" aspirations for freedom.
She described the country as moving closer to becoming a "military dictatorship," and said the United States had "no argument" with the Iranian people.
"We want to support your aspirations," she said. "We would be thrilled if tomorrow the regime in Iran had a change of mind and said, you know, 'Why are we suppressing the brilliance of our young people? Let's let the future of Iran flourish,' and so we will try to help in whatever way we can."
Ayatollah Khamenei with IRGC Commanders (file photo)
IRGC Commanders are appointed by Khamenei
The top U.S. diplomat said the current power struggle between Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meant that the Iranian people have an chance to influence the future of their country.
No Direct Aid To Opposition
In her interview with BBC's Persian news channel, Clinton also recounted the actions that Washington took in the wake of the disputed 2009 presidential election in Iran, which led to massive street protests.
She said Washington did not actively support the opposition Green Movement following at the time, because it did not receive any requests for help from opposition leaders.
She said the U.S. government had listened to those Iranian voices who said Washington shouldn't take any action that could potentially compromise opposition members.
Clinton also emphasized Washington's efforts to circumvent the Iranian government's strict Internet filtering by providing tools and training to citizens. "We are trying to provide support to circumvent the electronic curtain so that there can be freedom of speech, there can be communication, there can be the opportunity for people to get together to discuss their concerns about the abuses of human rights that we see on a frequent basis," she said.
Iran 'Must Investigate' Plot Allegations
Clinton also responded to questions submitted by the Iranian watchers of VOA's "Parazit" program and the BBC's Persian TV, submitted via YouTube, video, or e-mail.
A number of questions focused on U.S. sanctions against the Islamic republic, which Washington and its allies have enacted in response to the country's abysmal human rights record and questionable nuclear program.
Clinton said the United States wanted to enact the sanctions "in a way that doesn't impose suffering on the people of the country."
The secretary of state was speaking some two weeks after U.S. officials announced an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington.
In the days that followed, the Obama administration pledged to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran, and the U.S. Treasury Department said it was considering sanctions against Iran's Central Bank, the very core of the country's economy.
Clinton said Iran should investigate the plot -- which it says is fabricated -- on its own. "We would like Iran to conduct and participate in a UN investigation. We would like Iran to get to the bottom of this," she said. "We would like Iran's government to turn over the second defendant [indicted in the plot], who is a member of the Quds Force."
Separately, Clinton said that Washington was still assessing whether to keep the Iranian opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (aka People's Mujahedin Organization) on its list of terrorist organizations. The group was behind a series of deadly attacks in Iran but says it has renounced violence. It is also blacklisted by Tehran.
Copyright (c) 2011 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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