By CNN's Charley Keyes
The United States unveiled its first "virtual embassy" Tuesday, the latest attempt to reach over the Iranian regime and speak directly to the Iranian people.
The new website - at tehran.usembassy.gov - will provide visa applications, information on how Iranian students can study at American universities and a section speaking directly to the stressful relationship between the two countries.
And State Department officials say they are confident the website, which will be in both English and Farsi, can withstand efforts by the Iranian regime to knock it down.
"Unfortunately the leadership in Iran has a track record of opposing freedom of expression, both online and on the street," Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said. "The regime has tried to impose an electronic curtain by disrupting cell phones and Internet and social media. This is one more effort to try to get around that curtain and get information directly to the Iranian people."
The new website came online at 6 a.m. Washington time Tuesday, after what State Department officials said was frantic work since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton first suggested the idea in October. In its first hours there had been no attempt to disrupt the site. Clinton provided a video welcome message on the opening page of the virtual embassy.
"This initiative is designed to enhance our outreach to the Iranian people, notwithstanding the lack of diplomatic ties between our two governments," Sherman said.
"We want to support a more robust engagement between us and the people of Iran as we have in other countries where we have physical embassies."
The takeover of the U.S. Embassy in 1979 severed diplomatic relations between the two countries. And relations have become increasingly strained by U.S. concerns over Iran's nuclear program, a clamor in Congress for harsher sanctions against Iran's leaders and banks and, just this weekend, the apparent crash of a U.S. spy drone inside Iran.
The virtual embassy is the latest tool in State Department efforts to reach the youth of Iran, joining blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media.
And Sherman made glancing reference to usually secret State Department efforts to help people in repressive countries circumvent government crackdowns on computer communications.
"We have put resources into training people all around the world in ways to go around jamming. Many people already have private networks, virtual private networks that allow them to go through and around efforts to stop them from getting Internet access," she explained.
"We think we have the technical capability to get it back up even if it gets disrupted," she said at a briefing at the State Department, standing in front of screens showing off the new website. "And we are committed to doing everything we can to make sure the information gets through."