Iranian president Hassan Rouhani
Iranian president Hassan RouhaniAFP photo

In the latest gesture to demonstrate that the country is taking a new diplomatic direction under new president Hassan Rouhani, Iranian officials have ordered the cancellation of the annual anti-Zionist New Horizon Conference due to take place next month.

The Telegraph reported on Thursday that the Iranian foreign ministry stepped in to cancel the event, which was to have featured a former U.S. senator among 63 overseas contributors to the meeting.

The decision prompted a wave of hostile comment from hardliners associated with the meeting, reported the newspaper.

Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, caused international outrage by describing the Holocaust as a myth and calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map" during a previous conference. This was just one of many times that Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust. Before he ended his presidency, Ahmadinejad boasted that his proudest moment was the Holocaust denial.

By contrast, Ahmadinejad’s successor Rouhani has made overtures to the West and in a recent interview on CNN, acknowledged the historical tragedy of the Holocaust, saying the Nazis committed a "reprehensible" crime against the Jewish people.

Hardliners believe that Rouhani is selling out Iran and have attacked the new leader. Tensions between the new government and its domestic opposition were blamed for the hospitalization of Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, with symptoms of stress on Wednesday.

Nader Talebzadeh, the principle organizer of the conference, was quoted by the Telegraph as having said the cancellation of the conference was "a major mistake on the part of our government."

Websites sympathetic to the organizers flooded with hostile comments.

"Have our leaders given in so much to the world that are even afraid of a conference that might hurt Obama's feelings? Mr. Zarif, is this the extent of your sense of patriotism? one user wrote.

"The latest piece from our government's show of capitulation", said another. "What happened to our foreign policy slogan of prudence and honor? Replaced with compromise and humiliation?"

Following his CNN interview, Israeli officials were unimpressed by Rouhani's condemnation of the Holocaust, saying it was insufficient.

"It's true that (Rouhani) didn't deny the Holocaust, but he didn't condemn those who have denied it, such as his predecessor and other Iranian leaders," Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said.

Iran later claimed that CNN had misrepresented Rouhani's statements, saying the network added the words "Holocaust" and "reprehensible" to its translation.