Iranian president Hassan Rowhani cancels anti-Israel forum

Gathering instigated by hardline predecessor seen as undermining emerging policy of engaging with the West

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 October, 2013, 2:30am

The administration of President Hassan Rowhani has cancelled an anti-Israeli conference as part of his outreach to the West and efforts to map out a new diplomatic path for Iran.

The annual event was set up by Rowhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and showcased the former president's vitriolic anti-Israeli rhetoric and promoted his anti-Israeli sentiments.

When the conference was first held in 2005, Ahmadinejad made his infamous remark that Israel should be "wiped off the map". He later suggested the Holocaust was a "myth".

Iranian news websites said the foreign ministry scrapped the gathering in Tehran because it was seen as undermining the government's policy of "interaction with the outside world".

Rowhani's overtures to the West - including the historic exchanges last month at the United Nations - appear to have solid backing from Iran's top decision-maker, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As long as the supreme leader keeps his support, the backlash from critics cannot seriously challenge Rowhani's lighter touch.

Hardliners accuse Rowhani of selling out on Iran's ideological values.

One of the organisers of the anti-Israeli conference, dubbed New Horizon, said the cancellation was a "disaster" and a "big mistake".

"Cancellation of the anti- Zionist New Horizon festival is a disaster. It was the most powerful anti-Zionist conference in Iran," website quoted the organiser, Nader Talebzadeh, as saying.

Talebzadeh said 63 foreign scholars and 50 Iranian speakers were expected to address the gathering, which was supposed to have taken place about now.

He added that he began inviting foreign speakers back in May, when Ahmadinejad was in office.

Rowhani's short-term goal is seeking to ease Western sanctions as part of negotiations over Iran's controversial nuclear programme.

Talks with the US and other world powers are scheduled to resume in Geneva next week, but Iran has not yet given details on what new proposals it would bring.

The West and its allies fear Iran's ability to make nuclear fuel will eventually lead to weapons-grade material. Iran repeatedly denies it seeks nuclear weapons and says its atomic programme is only for energy and medical applications.

Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its very existence, citing Iran's repeated calls for Israel's destruction, its long-range missile programme and its support for violent anti-Israel groups like the Hezbollah in Lebanon.