Following on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s message for the Iranian New Year, or Noruz, President Obama released his own video to the Iranian people today.
At the end of the message, Obama told Iranians in Farsi, “Eideh shoma mobarak,” the equivalent of “happy holidays.” But the message was not all pleasantries: Obama also focused on the suppression of the free flow of information in Iran, and announced steps to counter it.
Obama initially listed some heartening interactions between Iranians and Americans such as the best foreign language film Oscar for the Iranian movie A Separation. He continued that Iranians and Americans both use the same tools on the internet to communicate, but that Iran’s increasingly repressive government hinders the free flow of information:
OBAMA: 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…
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 Iranian people to use the internet.
Indeed, the Iranian government cracks down on satellite dishes (somewhat futilely) and jams signals by international broadcasters over U.N. objections.
Amid the increasingly severe internet restrictions of the Electronic Curtain, the Obama administration today released new Treasury Department guidelines removing some of the ambiguities that hindered American software producers from allowing their products to be used in Iran. In a blog post, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes expanded on the new guidelines and wrote:
Today we are taking another step, by making it easier for Iranian citizens to get the software and services they need to connect with the rest of the world through modern communications methods. The U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) today issued guidance that will facilitate the availability of software and services that Iranians have told us are essential in order to effectively use the Internet.
A Treasury release outlined some of the specific areas where allowances are now made to export software to Iran, including software for chatting and voice-over-internet-phonecalls and related mobile apps, data storage like Dropbox, web browsers, RSS readers, and more.
The benefits of the free flow of internet information to and from Iran was on full display last week when a Facebook page drew Iranians and Israelis — two peoples whose countries are seemingly approaching the brink of war to share messages of mutual admiration, solidarity, and speak out against confrontation.