Obama decries Iran's "electronic curtain"

In a message marking the New Year Norwuz, President Obama spoke out against the "electronic curtain" imposed around the Iranian people by the government of Tehran, March 20, 2012. WhiteHouse.gov

(CBS News) In a video message to the Iranian people Tuesday, President Barack Obama decried the "electronic curtain" with which Tehran has cut off its citizens from the rest of the world, and shared his hope that the Iranian government would end those restrictions.

"The Iranian people are denied the basic freedom to access the information that they want," Mr. Obama said. "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, the 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," he said. "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."

The president said that America seeks a dialogue with Iranians, and announced that his administration was implementing a "Virtual Embassy" online (the U.S. presently does not have diplomatic relations with Iran), and is using Farsi in its Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus communications.

He also said that, despite U.S.-imposed sanctions on Tehran, the Obama administration Tuewsday is issuing new guidelines to make it easier for American businesses to provide software and services that foster better access to the Internet for the Iranian people.

"The United States will continue to draw attention to the electronic curtain that is cutting the Iranian people off from the world," he said, "and we hope that others will join us in advancing a basic freedom for the Iranian people: the freedom to connect with one another, and with their fellow human beings."

Alluding to the Arab Spring, Mr. Obama added, "Over the last year, we have learned once more that suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away," and said that if the government in Tehran pursues a "responsible path," including with regard to its nuclear program, Iran "will be welcomed once more among the community of nations, and the Iranian people will have greater opportunities to prosper."

The president shared his comments on the occasion of the Persian New Year, Nowruz. The White House also posted videos of Mr. Obama's message in English, and with Persian and Arabic translations.

The president said he and first lady Michelle Obama extended their best wishes to those celebrating Nowruz around the world - "coming together to celebrate the hope that comes with renewal. ...

"To the people of Iran, this holiday comes at a time of continued tension between our two countries. But as people gather with their families, do good deeds, and welcome a new season, we are also reminded of the common humanity that we share," Mr. Obama said.

"So 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."

You can watch President Obama's message by clicking on the video player below.

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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