Saudi Arabia declines UN Security Council seat

Kingdom condemns ‘international double standards’ on the Middle East

A file image of members the  United Nations Security Council  voting.  Saudi Arabia said today it would not take up its seat on the body. Reuters

A file image of members the United Nations Security Council voting. Saudi Arabia said today it would not take up its seat on the body. Reuters

Fri, Oct 18, 2013, 15:36

Saudi Arabia, in an unprecedented show of anger at the failure of the international community to end the war in Syria and act on other Middle East issues, said today it would not take up its seat on the United Nations Security Council.

The kingdom condemned what it called international double standards on the Middle East and demanded reforms in the Security Council, which has been at odds on ways to end the fighting in Syria.

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 between the two, Saudi analysts have said.

Saudi Arabia has also been angered by a rapprochement between Washington and Iran, Riyadh’s old regional foe, 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 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 UN 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.

A decision of such magnitude would have to have been taken by King Abdullah or Crown Prince Salman, said a Saudi analyst who asked not to be named.

“Saudi Arabia has been working on (getting onto the Security Council) for the last three years. They trained diplomats, male and female, the cream of the Foreign Ministry, our best talented youths. Then somebody made the decision suddenly to pull out,” he said.

The conservative Islamic kingdom has traditionally avoided big political statements, preferring to wield its influence as the world’s top oil exporter, birthplace of Islam and chief Arab ally of the US behind closed doors.

However, immersed in what they see as a pivotal struggle for the future of the Middle East with arch rival Iran, Saudi rulers are furious that the UN has taken no action over the Syrian conflict where they and Tehran back opposing sides.

Images of Syria’s civil war, in which more than 100,000 have died and in which millions have been displaced, are aired daily on Saudi news.

Prince Saud has previously described president Bashar al-Assad’s assault on areas held by rebels supported by Saudi Arabia as “genocide”.

Saudi anger boiled over after Dr Assad escaped US-led military strikes in response to a poison gas attack in Damascus by agreeing to give up his chemical arsenal.

“There are people being killed every day, every hour. And the Muslim world is very angry because we don’t see any action or any strong stance from the Security Council towards this situation,” Abdullah al-Askar, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the kingdom’s quasi-parliament, the Shoura Council said.

The Security Council has been split on how to handle the civil war in Syria, with Western powers pushing for stronger sanctions against Assad and Russia vetoing resolutions to that end. Saudi Arabia has backed the rebels in that conflict.

The Saudis, along with other Arab states, have also often criticised the US for blocking international action to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands seized in the 1967 Middle East war.