By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
Rumors in the Iranian press indicate this year's anti-Israel New Horizon film festival will be cancelled
(file photo: 2012 New Horizon film festival
The government of Iranian President Hassan Rohani has reportedly cancelled an annual anti-Israel conference as part of recent efforts to improve relations with the West.
The annual conference, titled "New Horizon," was among several anti-Israeli events launched under former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who had made verbal attacks against the Jewish state and denial of the Holocaust his hallmarks.
The chairman of the conference, Nader Talebzadeh, has described its cancellation as "a disaster" and a "big mistake."
More Than 60 'Anti-Zionist Thinkers'
In an interview with the hard-line Fars news agency, which is close to Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, Talebzadeh described the event as "the most powerful anti-Zionist conference" in the Islamic republic.
He said more than 60 "anti-Zionist thinkers" had been invited to this year's conference, which would have been its fourth edition.
"What is wrong with anti-Zionist activists and elites coming to Tehran? I don't get it," he said, in comments widely reported by hard-line websites.
Rohani, who became president in August, has made it clear that he and his team want to take a different approach from his predecessor. After campaigning on a platform of moderation, he has pledged to improve ties with the international community and has toned down the rhetoric.
In recent weeks, Rohani has said that the Nazis carried out a massacre against Jews and non-Jews during World War II that cannot be denied. His foreign minister, Javad Zarif, has described the Holocaust as a "heinous crime" and "a genocide" that should never be allowed to occur again.
Hard-liners in Iran have been critical of some of Rohani's apparent overtures to the West.
The website Didban.ir reported earlier this week that the Foreign Ministry had opposed the conference because it did not want to undermine Rohani's overtures.
Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli analyst who teaches contemporary Iranian politics at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, describes the cancellation as a "meaningful" gesture.
"I think [Rohani] is doing it for different reasons: in order to strengthen Iran's hands in negotiations with the P5+1, and also in order to make a friendly gesture towards the United States," Javedanfar said. "So overall, it's a positive gesture, but it's a small step."
No Conference, No Film Festival
Talks between Iran and world powers are due to resume next week in Geneva, where Iranian negotiators are expected to offer new proposals to resolve the standoff over Iran's disputed nuclear program.
Western powers, along with Israel, believe Iran is trying to develop a nuclear-weapons capability, although Tehran maintains the program is exclusively peaceful.
International sanctions over the nuclear program have crippled the economy.
A senior official with Iran's hard-line Basij militia has also criticized therumored cancellation of the New Horizon film festival, connected to the conference.
"Hearing rumors that the festival of independent filmmakers with [an anti-Hollywood theme] will not take place, under the excuse of easing tensions in ties between Iran and America, is painful," the militia's international deputy, Ahmad Esfandiary, was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency.
Iran has been critical of Hollywood films and has accused several of being anti-Iranian.
Esfandiary said the criticism of the United States' "criminal" policies and "Zionism" should continue and that Iran should remain a prime location for conferences and events where "independent thinkers" can make their voices heard
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