Saudi Arabia, in a display of anger at the failure of the international community to end the war in Syria and act on other Middle East issues, said yesterday that 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.
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 2011 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 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.
France, a security council permanent member, said it understood Saudi concerns.
The Russian foreign ministry said it was surprised at Saudi Arabia’s move and by its accusations.
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 United States 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.
Russia and China have repeatedly blocked resolutions supported by Saudi Arabia to toughen action against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whose forces’ assault on rebel-held areas has been described by the kingdom as “genocide”.
Saudi anger boiled over after Mr Assad escaped US-led military strikes in response to a disputed 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 said.
Saudi concerns that the US decision to avoid strikes demonstrated weakness were underscored by signs of a tentative reconciliation between Washington and Tehran, something Riyadh fears may lead to a “grand bargain” on Iran’s nuclear programme.