RIYADH, (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia turned down a coveted seat on the United Nations Security Council yesterday in a rare display of anger at the failure of the international community to end the war in Syria and act on other Middle East issues.
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.
Unlike in the past, when Riyadh’s frustration was mostly directed at Russia and China, it is now also aimed at Washington, its oldest international ally, which has pursued policies since the Arab Spring that Saudi rulers have bitterly opposed.
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 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.
A founding member of the United Nations, Saudi Arabia was one of five countries elected by the body’s General Assembly on Thursday to serve a two-year term on the 15-member Security Council.
The council, which has power to authorise military action, impose sanctions and set up peacekeeping operations, has 10 rotating members. The United States, China, Russia, France and Britain are permanent members, which wield a veto.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had not received any official notification from Saudi Arabia rejecting its first-ever seat on the council.
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 identified.
“Saudi Arabia has been working on (the council seat) 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.
In a single previous example of a council member walking away from the body, the Soviet Union in 1950 boycotted its permanent seat for half a year in protest at Taiwan’s occupation of the Chinese place instead of Beijing.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was surprised at Saudi Arabia’s move and puzzled by its accusations against the Security Council. “With its decision, Saudi Arabia has removed itself from the collective work of the U.N. Security Council to support international peace and security,” the ministry said.