President Barack Obama reached out to Iran's people on Tuesday in a four-minute video message on the occasion of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, even as he accused the government in Tehran of lowering an "electronic curtain" to shut the country off from outside information and curb internal dissent.
"In this season of new beginnings, the people of Iran should know that the United States of America seeks a future of deeper connections between our people—a time when the electronic curtain that divides us is lifted and your voices are heard; a season in which mistrust and fear are overcome by mutual understanding and our common hopes as human beings," Obama said in the video, which the White House released in English, and with Persian and Arabic subtitles.
"I want the Iranian people to know that America seeks a dialogue to hear your views and understand your aspirations," the president said, adding: "Even as we've imposed sanctions on the Iranian government, today, my administration is issuing new guidelines to make it easier for American businesses to provide software and services into Iran that will make it easier for the Iranian people to use the Internet."
The traditional presidential message came amid concerns that the tense standoff over Iran's suspect nuclear program could turn into a military confrontation and with another round of painful international sanctions set to bite more deeply into the Islamic republic's economy.
Still, Obama said, "there is no reason for the United States and Iran to be divided from one another."
"Here in the United States, Iranian-Americans prosper and contribute greatly to our culture. This year, an Iranian production—"A Separation"—won America's highest honor for a foreign film. Our navies have confronted the danger of piracy, with U.S. sailors even rescuing Iranian citizens who had been taken hostage. And from Facebook to Twitter—from cell phones to the Internet—our people use the same tools to talk to one another, and to enrich our lives."
"Yet increasingly, the Iranian people are denied the basic freedom to access the information that they want. Instead, the Iranian government jams satellite signals to shut down television and radio broadcasts. It censors the Internet to control what the Iranian people can see and say. The regime monitors computers and cell phones for the sole purpose of protecting its own power. And in recent weeks, Internet restrictions have become so severe that Iranians cannot communicate freely with their loved ones within Iran, or beyond its borders. Technologies that should empower citizens are being used to repress them."
"Because of the actions of the Iranian regime, an electronic curtain has fallen around Iran—a barrier that stops the free flow of information and ideas into the country, and denies the rest of the world the benefit of interacting with the Iranian people, who have so much to offer," he said.
Iran's government must respect the right to freedom of expression "just as it has a responsibility to meet its obligations with regard to its nuclear program. Let me say again that if the Iranian government pursues a responsible path, it will be welcomed once more among the community of nations, and the Iranian people will have greater opportunities to prosper," said Obama.
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