Morning Report: December 15, 2004

Senator Joseph Lieberman declines cabinet invite. Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman has reportedly declined invitations to join the Bush administration in a cabinet-level post, according to a CNN report. The Democrat was said to have been offered the posts of Ambassador to the United Nations and of head of Homeland Security. (CNN)

Iraqi defense minister: Tehran is Threat Number One. Iraqi Defense Minister Hazen Shaalan called Iran his country's "most dangerous enemy". Shaalan also pointed the finger at Syrian intelligence and former Ba'athist regime elements in Iraq's continuing terrorism problem. (Stratfor, Debka)

Debka: Al-Qaeda attacks planned for December. Another Debka bulletin reports: 'Cairo and Jerusalem warned by Washington of planned al Qaeda attack in December. Chemical weapon hazard possible or strike against Mediterranean, Gulf of Aqaba and Suez Canal targets. Threat is posed by Al Qaeda’s new Sinai bastion teamed up with new Saudi al Qaeda chief Saud Hamid al-Utaibi who orchestrated US Jeddah consulate attack on December 6.'

US will not join EU-IRI parley. Washington has said that the United States will not join nuclear negotiations between the Iranian regime and the European Union, according to an AP article. 'Iran is willing to talk with the United States about a nuclear program that Washington alleges is aimed at secretly acquiring the bomb, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Monday. The White House, however, rejected the idea. ... "When it comes to Iran, we are very supportive of the efforts by our European friends to get Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. And we stay in close contact with our European friends on their discussions and the progress that they have made ... That's the way we're approaching this issue," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "What we believe is important is that ultimately Iran agree to end its nuclear weapons program, not just suspend it." ' (AP via Free Iran)

Hezbollah TV: France no, Europe yes. Clarifying an earlier report (see MR 12/14), Democracy for the Middle East explains that while Hezbollah-controlled al-Manar TV is indeed banned from the French airwaves, 'France is turning a blind eye toward Al-Manar's other distribution channels in Europe and around the world.' DFME provides a chart outlining the links between al-Manar and its distributors. Meanwhile, the Tehran Times reported that the Association of Muslim Journalists called for protests against the French government's decision to ban al-Manar domestically, according to a bulletin from the Middle East Media Research Institute. (DFME, MEMRI)

Against "self-service fatwas". Amir Taheri writes in the Gulf News that 'the increasing use of Islam as a political ideology rather than a religious faith, and an instrument for seeking power has led to the perversion of the role of the ulema [religious schaolars]', with large numbers of newly-anointed clerics bringing quantity, rather than quality, to the office. He cites the role of television in this "ulema inflation", with reporters seeking a photogenic cleric wearing 'a beard and some kind of theological headgear'. (Gulf News via Benador Associates)

FBI searches Saudi-linked PR firm's offices. According to this item at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, 'FBI agents searched offices of Qorvis Communications last week looking for information about its client, Saudi Arabia. According to a Justice Department report, the Saudis paid Qorvis $14.6 million for a six-month period, ending Dec. 31, 2002. (How much they paid in other periods was not immediately known.) The money went to fund lobbying and public relations, including the distribution of material "to promote public awareness" of Saudi Arabia's "commitment in the war against terrorism and to peace in the Middle East." ' An article in the Washington Times explains that the investigation centers on Qorvis' compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), noting that "Saudi Arabia is Qorvis' only foreign government client. " The Washington Times cites concerns by three Qorvis founders who quit the firm over "a deep discomfort in representing the government of Saudi Arabia against accusations that Saudi leaders have turned a blind eye to terrorism." The firm's managing partners are Michael Petruzzello, Doug Poretz, Curtis Robinson, Esther Thomas Smith, Michael Tucker and Karen Vahouny. Dreams Into Lightning has commented on Saudi media influence here. (FDD, Washington Times, Dreams Into Lightning)

The coming revolution. The latest post at the Belmont Club explores the idea that ' ''freedom and politics are really going to be the agents of destruction for the ancien regime of tyrant and terrorist", not as a figure of speech but as literal truth. The role of the US military would be strategically indirect and subtle: to ensure that the old regimes cannot contain the forces that would naturally spring up against them.' (Belmont Club)