Thanks, but no thanks, says Saudi Arabia to the UN Security Council

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Aaron Schachter: I'm Aaron Schachter in for Marco Werman. This is The World. Thanks, but no thanks. That's what Saudi Arabia said today to the United Nations Security Council. The Saudis were elected by other nations at the UN to one of the council's 10 rotating, non-permanent seats. Normally, that's a golden opportunity for a nation like Saudi Arabia to raise its diplomatic profile, but the oil rich kingdom instead rejected the seat. It issued a scathing statement blasting the security council for failing in its duty to protect the world's peace. The decision has a lot of observers scratching their heads. Colum Lynch covers the UN for foreignpolicy.com. Easy question, Colum, what is going on here?

Colum Lynch: Easy question, not an easy answer. I guess it sort of reflects a certain frustration and anxiety by the Saudis over the lack of action in Syria. The Saudis have been supporting, militarily and politically and diplomatically, the Syrian opposition. They've been looking and trying to put pressure to remove President Assad from power and events are not going in their direction at the UN and I think they have been showing frustration under various, a number, of fronts. Their Foreign Minister, in September, had planned to address the UN General Assembly and decided not to do it the last moment. That was almost unprecedented and this is another nearly unprecedented act.

Schachter: So they're just kind of throwing a fit then?

Lynch: There's a real question. There hasn't been a formal- I mean, the Foreign Ministry sent out a statement saying that they were going to do this. They haven't formally informed the United Nations and I think there's probably plenty of room for them to back up on that.

Schachter: Back down on that. Yeah.

Lynch: So, but nevertheless, it's extremely interesting. I mean, there's- It's a long history with nobody doing this. I mean, there's the one case. The famous case of the Soviet Union back in 1950 boycotting Security Council meetings because of anger over the failure of the council to recognize red China. Ukraine, apparently, boycotted some meetings back in 1948, but I don't think we have any other examples of it since then.

Schachter: Well tell me what the official reasons are for the Saudis not taking on the seat and are those reasons credible?

Lynch: Well they are credible in the sense of the Saudis kind of expressed a longstanding critique of the Security Council. That it operates under double standards. That it's not democratic and this is true.

Schachter: Colum, undemocratic because what? Five of 15 members control everything?

Lynch: Because five of 15 members control everything and they operate under their own rules. There is no other body or institution that can challenge their decisions. They can make mistakes and if they make mistakes they don't have to fix them.

Schachter: Colum, I wonder if this could be seen as kind of a poke in the eye to America? What Saudi has done.

Lynch: I think it's a real possibility. I mean, Saudis have had a lot of issues of concern with the Americans and with the course of American diplomacy over the last several months. The Saudis are very supportive of the military government of Egypt. The U.S. has been very cool towards the government. The Americans just worked out a sort of deal with Russia over the elimination of the chemical weapons in Syria. The Saudis are not crazy about that because it sort of softened the previous approach, moving towards applying more military pressure. They favored an attack on the government to try and move towards unseating President Assad and the U.S. is now in diplomatic negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. Iran is Saudi Arabia's main, regional rival and they see this kind of rapprochement as troubling. So there's a lot of issues where Saudi Arabia is in sort of confrontation with the Americans.

Schachter: So Colum Lynch, next time we speak with you, will Saudi Arabia actually be on the Security Council or won't they?

Lynch: I wouldn't bet a month's pay on it, but maybe. I'd bet like five or 10 bucks that, yeah, it would.

Schachter: Okay. Deal. Colum Lynch covers the United Nations for foreignpolicy.com. Colum, thank you as always.

Lynch: Alright, thanks for having me.

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