Iran's Culture Ministry on Wednesday sharply criticized a conservative news website that offered Iranians a chance to pose questions to a Farsi-speaking spokesman for the U.S. State Department, who would then respond.
The alef.ir website posted a notice Tuesday saying readers could pose questions on the site and that U.S. State Department spokesman Alan Eyre would respond to them. It took down the post late Wednesday as authorities stepped up criticism.
Eyre speaks fluent Farsi and has become the new public face of the United States to many Iranians and Farsi speakers who are able to watch Farsi-language news outlets. Eyre has already conducted interviews with foreign-based media outlets such as the Farsi language programs of both the Voice of America and the BBC, but responding to alef.ir would have been the first ever contact with an Iran-based news website.
Eyre is based in Dubai. The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, which oversees many of the Iranian outreach programs, had no immediate comment on Iran's criticism of the question-and-answer initiative.
Dozens of people submitted questions Tuesday hours after the website wrote "Alan Eyre responds to questions by Aelf visitors."
Several of the questions touched on the West's dispute with Iran over its nuclear program, American support for Israel and U.S.-Iranian relations.
The Culture Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that there is no justification for the website to allow a U.S. "intelligence officer" to respond to questions by Iranians.
The ministry said that it "condemns the extraordinary move" and "invites the media to avoid any cooperation with figures and media that are opponents of the Islamic system," according to the official IRNA news agency that carried the statement.
President Barack Obama's administration has made efforts to engage with the Iranian people as part of people-to-people exchanges, including improved visa options for visiting Iranian students. Obama also sends annual Nowruz greetings to Iranians on the eve of the Persian new year.
Iran and the U.S. have no diplomatic relations.