Why Saudi Arabia said no

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SummaryGrowing distance from the US, the US-Iran thaw, and Russia’s stonewalling on Syria were the triggers for Riyadh turning down the Security Council seat.

Growing distance from the US, the US-Iran thaw, and Russia’s stonewalling on Syria were the triggers for Riyadh turning down the Security Council seat.

Saudi Arabia dropped a bombshell on the UN on October 18. Having won, for the first time ever, a seat as a non-permanent member of the Security Council just a day earlier in a secret ballot, the foreign ministry in Riyadh issued a statement that enumerated several reasons that left it “no option but to turn down Security Council membership”. The delegations of the 193 countries in New York were stunned at this unprecedented action of a member state to renounce a seat on the most important organ of the UN, after having worked for two years to get elected. The Saudi delegation in New York had been celebrating the election success and in Riyadh, too, there was jubilation. The Saudi ambassador had even said in a statement that “we take this election very seriously and accept the responsibility to contribute to this important forum to maintain peace and security”. All the other delegates, this writer included, were no doubt delighted to have the opportunity to speculate and pontificate on the real reasons behind the Saudi decision, apart from or in addition to those outlined by the government in Riyadh. On one thing, however, there was consensus: the decision was taken personally by King Abdullah.

The official statement in Riyadh, inter alia, essentially mentioned these factors: Syria; working methods and double standards; and Palestine and weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. “Allowing the ruling clique in Syria to kill and burn its people by the chemical weapons, while the world stood idly by, without applying deterrent sanctions against the Damascus regime is also irrefutable evidence and proof of the inability of the Security Council to carry out its duties and responsibilities”. Further, “work mechanisms and double standards... prevent it from carrying out its duties and responsibilities in keeping world peace. Therefore, Saudi Arabia has no other option but to turn down SC membership until it is reformed and given the means to accomplish its duties and resume its responsibility in maintaining peace and security in the world”. The Saudi statement criticised the failure of the UN to rid the Middle East of WMDs, including nuclear weapons, as well as the failure to find a solution to the Palestinian crisis for 65 years.

Russia, which along

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