Saudi Arabia snubs seat on UN Security Council - hours after winning coveted place

Russia 'baffled by the reasons that the kingdom gave to explain its position'

Astonishing the diplomatic community in New York, Saudi Arabia announced last night that it would not be taking up a seat on the United Nations Security Council just one day after being elected to the body for two years.

In an unprecedented about-face, the Kingdom abruptly changed its mind about taking one of the Council’s 10 non-permanent seats in protest at its failure to respond decisively to conflicts such as the Syrian civil war.

Aside from Britain, France, the United States, Russia and China which occupy the five permanent seats, other nations normally fall over one another to win election to the Council for a two-year, non-permanent term in the belief membership of the club afford them prestige and  a larger voice on the world stage if only fleetingly.

Saudi Arabia was one of five countries picked to join the body on Thursday. After the vote Saudi Arabia’s UN Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said his government took it “very seriously” and saw it as “a reflection of a longstanding policy in support of moderation and in support of resolving disputes in peaceful means.”

But either Mr Al-Mouallimi had missed a memo for Riyadh or something happened in the intervening hours that changed his government’s mind. A statement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry on Friday excoriated the Council for failing on multiple fronts, not just with the Syrian conflict but also in resolving Israeli-Palestinian tensions and ridding the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction.  It therefore would not be taking the seat, it said.

The statement cited the body’s “inability to perform its duties” to end the war in Syria, saying its failure has enabled President Bashar Assad’s regime “to kill its people and burn them with chemical weapons in front of the entire world and without any deterrent or punishment.” The Syrian regime denies using chemical weapons.

The snub may also reflect growing irritation with the United States, with which it has for so long be so closely tied.  Saudi Arabia was angered by President Barack Obama backing off military strikes against Syria and has been clearly unsettled by what may be a thawing of the ice between the US and Iran, its arch rival in the region.

Russia last night said it was “surprised” and “baffled by the reasons that the kingdom gave to explain its position” and noted the headway now being made by the UN on ridding Syria of chemical weapons.

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