State Department intervention helped prevent the social-networking Web site Twitter from conducting scheduled maintenance that would have shut down daytime service in post-election Iran on Tuesday, U.S. officials said.
The officials were reluctant to talk publicly or in detail about their effort to keep a vital communication line open amid massive protests in Iran - out of concern that the action could be seen as meddling in the country’s domestic affairs.
Twitter, which has emerged as a leading unofficial news source from and into Iran since the Friday presidential election, is still up and running in the Islamic republic, even though Iran reportedly has blocked text-messaging services.
The popular site had planned regular maintenance, which would have disabled access to it and its mobile version for an hour on Tuesday morning local time in Iran. State Department officials noticed an announcement about the service interruption and called Twitter to discourage it from going ahead with its plans.
“We highlighted to them that this was an important form of communication,” a senior official told reporters. “One of the areas where people are able to get out the word is through Twitter. They announced they were going to shut down their system for maintenance, and we asked them not to.”
In a message on the site Monday, Twitter said the maintenance work was rescheduled for 1:30 a.m. Iranian time Wednesday.
“A critical network upgrade must be performed to ensure continued operation of Twitter. In coordination with Twitter, our network host had planned this upgrade for tonight,” the company said. “However, our network partners at NTT America recognize the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran.”
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly declined to discuss the department’s specific actions regarding Iran, but he said officials were in touch with Twitter “all weekend.” He also said that regular contacts between Foggy Bottom and the site on various issues had taken place long before the Iranian election.
Seven people were reported killed during protests in Iran challenging the government’s announcement that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won re-election in a landslide. The rulers said they will not invalidate the results, but allowed some recounts to take place.
Supporters of defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi posted defiant messages on Twitter on Tuesday, calling for a second banned pro-Mousavi rally to go ahead and offering security updates, Reuters news agency reported.
President Obama said earlier Tuesday that he was careful not to comment extensively on the events in Iran, because “it’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling.”
“You’ve seen in Iran some initial reaction from the supreme leader that indicates he understands the Iranian people have deep concerns about the election,” Mr. Obama said at a press conference with visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
“How that plays out over the next several days and several weeks is something ultimately for the Iranian people to decide, but I stand strongly with the universal principle that people’s voices should be heard and not suppressed,” he said.
Administration officials insisted that their request to Twitter did not amount to an attempt to interfere in Iranian events. They said they wanted to ensure that communication lines remained open in Iran at a time when the government banned foreign media from reporting outside their offices.
“This is about giving their voices a chance to be heard. One of the ways that their voices are heard is through new media,” Mr. Kelly said.