Craig Ruttle, File, Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia on Friday rejected its seat on the U.N. Security Council hours after it was elected to it, in a rare and startling move aimed at protesting the body's failure to resolve the Syrian civil war.
The Saudi discontent appeared largely directed at its longtime ally, the United States, reflecting more than two years of frustration. The two are at odds over a number of Mideast issues, including how Washington has handled some of the region's crises, particularly in Egypt and Syria. It also comes as ties between the U.S. and Iran, the Saudi's regional foe, appear to be tepidly improving.
Saudi Arabia showed its displeasure last month when Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal declined to address the General Assembly meeting. Days later, the kingdom's unease with Washington appeared to manifest when President Barack Obama spoke to Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani in a groundbreaking telephone call.
The kingdom was given one of the rotating seats on the 15-member council in a vote Thursday.
On Friday, the Saudi Foreign Ministry issued a statement rejecting the seat, saying the U.N. Security Council had failed in multiple cases in the Middle East. Particularly, it said U.N. failure to act has enabled Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime to perpetrate the killings of its people, including the use of chemical weapons. The Syrian regime denies using chemical weapons.
"Allowing the ruling regime in Syria to kill its people and burn them with chemical weapons in front of the entire world and without any deterrent or punishment is clear proof and evidence of the U.N. Security Council's inability to perform its duties and shoulder its responsibilities," the ministry said in the statement carried on the state news agency.
Saudi Arabia backs the rebels fighting to overthrow Assad in a war that has killed some 100,000 people since early 2011. Repeated attempts by the U.N. Security Council to address the conflict have fallen apart, usually because Assad's ally Russia has blocked strong resolutions. Still, in a rare consensus, the council passed a resolution on destroying Syria's chemical arsenal after an Aug. 21 chemical attack.
Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab leaders have backed the Syrian rebels with weapons and financing in part to counter their regional rival Iran, which has strongly thrown its weight behind its ally, Assad. At the same time, the friendly gestures between the U.S. and Iran's new government have made Saudi Arabia uneasy.
Russia said it was "surprised" and "baffled by the reasons that the kingdom gave to explain its position" — particularly after the chemical weapons resolution. That resolution was passed after Russia brokered Damascus' consent to surrender its chemical arsenal, which it had long kept secret.
There appear to be some efforts under way to get the Saudis to recant. Britain's deputy U.N. ambassador Peter Wilson told reporters his team is looking at what precisely the Saudis meant by their statement and are talking to them "to get a little bit more background on what lies behind this."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he has "taken note" of the media reports of the Saudi rejection, "but I would like to caution you that I have received no official notification in this regard."
"We also are looking forward to working very closely in addressing many important challenges with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," particularly the Syrian war and other issues, including combatting "terrorism and nuclear proliferation," he said.
He said member states are holding discussions on how to deal with the Saudi move. Ban talked to a senior official in the Saudi government after the news broke, a U.N. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussion was private.
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