In what is being called an unprecedented move, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced it is declining it’s first ever UN Security Council seat over the international body’s inaction on the Syria crisis and the Palestinian question.
The Saudis had worked for years to get elected to a seat on the SC, so their refusal to accept it is causing some head scratching around the world.
The kingdom condemned what it called international double standards on the Middle East and demanded reforms in the Security Council.
Riyadh’s frustration is mostly directed at Washington, its oldest international ally, which has pursued policies since the Arab Spring that Saudi rulers have bitterly opposed and which have severely damaged relations with the United States, Saudi analysts have said.
Saudi Arabia has also been angered by a rapprochement between Iran, its old regional foe, and the United States, which has taken root since President Barack Obama spoke by telephone last month to the new Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, in the highest-level contact between the two countries in more than three decades.
Citing the Security Council’s failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, take steps to end Syria’s civil war and to stop nuclear proliferation in the region, Riyadh said the body had instead perpetuated conflicts and grievances.
“Saudi Arabia … is refraining from taking membership of the U.N. Security Council until it has reformed so it can effectively and practically perform its duties and discharge its responsibilities in maintaining international security and peace,” said a Foreign Ministry statement issued on state media.
The conservative Islamic kingdom has traditionally avoided big political statements, preferring to wield its influence as world’s top oil exporter, birthplace of Islam and chief Arab ally of the United States behind closed doors.
However, its anger at the international response to Arab issues, particularly the Syrian conflict, boiled over after Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, escaped U.S.-led military strikes in response to a poison gas attack in Damascus by agreeing to give up his chemical arsenal.
It is the second time this month that Saudi Arabia has made a public gesture over what it sees as the Security Council’s failure to take action to stop the civil war in Syria that has killed more than 100,000 people.
Earlier this month, the Saudi foreign minister cancelled a speech at the U.N. General Assembly in frustration over the international inaction on Syria and the Palestinian issue, a diplomatic source said.
“The kingdom sees that the method and work mechanism and the double standards in the Security Council prevent it from properly shouldering its responsibilities towards world peace,” the foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the state news agency, SPA.
The Kingdom is also citing UN inaction on the Palestinian question and its inability to end what they call the “Israeli occupation of Palestine.”
But it is on the matter of the Syrian civil war that the Saudis apparently feel betrayed by the west. Their anger at Russia and China for blocking every effort at sanctioning Bashar Assad for his murderous suppression of the opposition, as well as the failure by the UNSC to condemn the poison gas attack on Syrian civilians has evidently made participation on the Security Council problematic.
This article in Foreign Policy, one observer called the Saudi action “bizarre”:
“This strikes me as bizarre; I’ve got no good explanation for it,” said F. Gregory Gause, a professor of political science at the University of Vermont and an expert on Saudi Arabia. “I know the Saudi diplomats at the mission were preparing for this; they were taking courses at Columbia University to get ready.” Gause said that Saudi foreign policy has a deeply personal quality to it and that the Saudi leadership sometimes has “fits of pique and then backs down. I don’t know if this is a fit of pique.”
The statement by the Saudi foreign ministry left the door open for future participation:
In a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency, the Saudi Foreign Ministry offered its “sincere thanks and deep gratitude to all countries that have given their confidence to elect it as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the next two years.” But it said “Saudi Arabia … is refraining from taking membership of the U.N. Security Council until it has reformed so it can effectively and practically perform its duties and discharge its responsibilities in maintaining international security and peace.” It denounced that “the method and work mechanism and the double standards in the Security Council prevent it from properly shouldering its responsibilities towards world peace.”
When the Saudis cite “double standards” at the UN they’re talking about Iraq and the international effort that eventually toppled Saddam Hussein. They may not want western troops on the ground in Syria, but there is no doubt they feel that Washington and the international community could be doing a lot more to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people and bring down the alawite regime in Damascus.
The Saudis would not have been a wholly reliable vote on the SC as far as supporting American foreign policy. But the prospect of another nation even less friendly to US interests taking the seat makes the Saudi decision a problem for the US and the west.