But a day later, the Saudi foreign ministry pulled the rug out from underneath his feet, issuing a statement thanking the more than 170 countries that backed its first ever Security Council bid. At the same time, it said it had no intention of filling its seat, denouncing the council's application of "double standards" that promotes the "expansion of the injustices" as well as "violations of rights and the spread of conflicts around the world."
"Allowing the ruling regime in Syria to kill and burn its people by the chemical weapons, while the world stands by idly" constitutes "irrefutable evidence and proof of the inability of the Security Council to carry out its duties and responsibilities," according to the statement. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the statement added, "announces its apology for not accepting membership to the Security Council until the council is reformed and enabled, effectively and practically, to carry out its duties and responsibilities in maintaining international peace and security."
The Saudi action has left the U.N. in something of a quandary. On Saturday, the U.N. Arab Group, which includes all the U.N.'s Arab governments, issued an appeal to Saudi Arabia to reconsider its decision and take up the seat. "They could simply leave the seat vacant by not showing up. That would allow them to show up at any time in the future during the two year membership on the Security Council," said one senior U.N.-based official. "Or they could inform the GA president that they are withdrawing, prompting a new election. Who knows what the king (and it must be the king) is thinking." Today, however, Arab governments appeared to have had a change of heart, expressing support for the Saudi decision.
Others say the Saudis may be overplaying their hand.
"The twin Saudi decisions to give up their speaking slot in the General Debate in the General Assembly and their elected seat on the Security Council suggest a worrisome retreat from global diplomatic engagement," Edward Luck, the dean of the University of San Diego School of Peace Studies. "To the Saudis, the game in the Council may appear rigged, but it is the only game in town."
"It would be a blow for stability in the turbulent Middle East and for the interests that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia share in the region if Riyadh gives up on open multilateral diplomacy," he added. "Regional bodies, weak and increasingly divided along the Shia- Sunni fault line, will not provide an alternative to the UN. More global involvement is needed in the region, not less, especially in the end game in Syria. Many in the West are already worried about alleged Saudi support for more radical elements in the Syrian opposition. They could prove to be the biggest obstacles to attaining both peace and justice in Syria and stability in its neighborhood."
Luck said it is only inevitable that the Saudis would "be extremely sensitive to any signs of rapprochement between Washington and Tehran, no matter how modest and tentative. But much of the action on sanctions and curbing Iranian nuclear ambitions will be in the Security Council. If Riyadh wanted a bigger voice on these existential matters, it should have taken its seat. The Saudi refusal to join the Council can only be seen as a victory for its Iranian rivals."