Saudi Arabia rejects UN Security Council seat, citing Syria, Palestinians

Unprecedented move reflects kingdom's anger at the international community's failure to act on Syrian war and Palestinian-Israeli conflict

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 October, 2013, 8:56pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 October, 2013, 4:25am

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, yesterday said 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 SecurityCouncil, which has been at odds on ways to end the fighting in Syria.

"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," a Foreign Ministry statement said.

It pointed specifically to the nearly three-year civil war in Syria and the protracted Palestinian-Israeli conflict as key reasons for the decision. "Failing to find a solution to the Palestinian cause for 65 years" it said, had led to "numerous wars that have threatened world peace".

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.

Riyadh's frustration was mostly directed at Washington, its oldest international ally, which had pursued policies since the Arab spring that Saudi rulers bitterly opposed and which had severely damaged relations between the two, analysts said.

France said it shared Saudi Arabia's frustration.

"We have an ongoing dialogue on the subject of Syria with Saudi Arabia. We share its frustration after the Security Council's paralysis," French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said, noting that France was proposing reforms to the council's veto rights.

But Russia sharply criticised Saudi Arabia, saying the kingdom's argument that the body had failed over the Syria conflict was "strange".

"We are surprised by Saudi Arabia's unprecedented decision," the foreign ministry said in a statement. "The kingdom's arguments arouse bewilderment and the criticism of the UN Security Council in the context of the Syria conflict is particularly strange."

Saudi Arabia has also been angered by a rapprochement between Washington and Iran, Riyadh's old regional foe, which has taken root since US President Barack Obama spoke by telephone last month to new Iranian President Hassan Rowhani.

Saudi Arabia 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, its rulers are furious that the UN has taken no action over the Syrian conflict where they and Tehran back opposing sides.

Additional reporting by Agence-France Presse