Saudi Arabia Turns Down Seat On U.N. Security Council
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has turned down an invitation to take one of the ordinarily coveted rotating seats on the United Nations Security Council, citing as their primary reason the failure of that body to do anything about the situation in Syria:
LONDON — Assailing what it called double standards at the United Nations, Saudi Arabia on Friday took the unprecedented step of rejecting a highly coveted seat on the United Nations Security Council it had won for the first time just a day earlier.
The protest, made known in a statement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, said, “The manner, the mechanisms of action and double standards existing in the Security Council prevent it from performing its duties and assuming its responsibilities toward preserving international peace and security as required.”
The gesture appeared to reflect Saudi Arabia’s simmering annoyance at the Security Council’s record in Syria, where Russia and China — two of the five permanent members — have blocked Western efforts, broadly supported by Saudi Arabia, to pressure President Bashar al-Assad. The other permanent members are the United States, Britain and France.
The announcement came a day after Chad, Chile, Lithuania, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia were elected to seats on the 15-member Security Council for a two-year term starting in January. They replace Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo. The seats are prized because they give officials access to high-level diplomacy and offer a rare opportunity to influence events.
Diplomats at the United Nations said they were shocked by the Saudi gesture and could not recall a previous time when a member state elected to one of the nonpermanent seats had rejected it. “The actual rejection by an elected member seems unprecedented,” one diplomatic official said.
It was unclear whether the Saudi decision was reversible. Efforts to reach Saudi officials for further elaboration were not immediately successful.
Also unclear was whether the 193-member United Nations General Assembly would need to convene again for a special election to replace Saudi Arabia on the Security Council if the Saudis insist on refusing the seat.
The council has met before without a full membership. Diplomats recalled that in 1950, Russia refused to sit at the council table, but the Russians did not repudiate their seat and the council still convened with 14 members.
Saudi Arabia’s rejection of the seat was a sharp departure from its preference for quiet diplomacy to advance its aims, particularly at a time of great regional uncertainty, with the civil war in Syria affecting neighboring countries and the United States, Saudi Arabia’s biggest international backer, pursuing what seems to be a cautious and untested opening toward Iran, the Saudis’ main regional adversary.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to turn down the seat, after trying for the first time to win it, seemed all the more surprising because its efforts to seek representation had been taken by experts as a reflection of the kingdom’s wish to be more assertive in resolving the Syrian civil war and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Tthe Saudi ambassador to the United Nations, Abdallah Y. al-Mouallimi, said after the General Assembly vote on Thursday that it was “a reflection of a longstanding policy in support of moderation and in support of resolving disputes by peaceful means,” The Associated Press reported.
The statement on Friday struck a far less conciliatory tone, calling for changes to enhance the Security Council’s contribution to peace. It did not say what those should entail.
Given that most nations outside the UNSC permanent members quite often openly covet a seat on the Security Council, this seems like an odd decision on the Saudi’s part, made doubly so by the fact that they had been campaigning for the seat all the way up until yesterday. Not being an expert on Saudi affairs, I’m not even going to begin to try to speculate on what’s going on here, other than to say that it’s darned odd. In any case, as John Burgess notes, this probably comes as a relief to human rights groups who had been protesting the idea of including Saudi Arabia on the most important United Nations body of them all.