Saudi Arabia rejects UNSC seat, threatens to shift away from America

The Americans’ rejection of intervention in Syria after the regime’s use of chemical weapons, as well as the West’s rush to embrace Iranian President Rouhani’s “charm offensive” is now leading inexorably to an impending American back-pedalling on Iranian sanctions: (h/t Honest Reporting)

Israeli and Sunni Arab leaders have good reason to worry that the Obama administration is already backpeddling on six United Nations resolutions, setting the stage for a deal like those with North Korea that, as widely believed, allowed it to obtain a nuclear weapons capability

The Los Angeles Times reports: “The six world powers negotiating with Iran over its disputed nuclear program asked Tehran in an opening proposal earlier this week to slow, rather than halt, low-level uranium enrichment at its two enrichment facilities, a hard-line website in Iran reported.” This is a recipe for disaster as far as Iran’s neighbors are concerned.

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In other words, if the report is accurate, this administration is less resolute than and is already negotiating down from numerous U.N. resolutions. And this is supposedly where the administration is at early in the talks. An official with a pro-Israel organization sums up the concern: “If this is the opening offer, it is frightening what the final deal [might] look like. It would be interpreted as an abject acquiescence to an eventually nuclear-armed Iran.”

In an interview on Meet the Press, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded the alarm about the talks, “The question is not of hope, the question is of actual results. And the test is the result. The result has to be the full dismantling of Iran’s military nuclear program. If that is achieved, that would be very good.” He continued:

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You know, Syria just committed to fully dismantling its chemical weapons program. Suppose Syria said, “Well, you know, we’re going to dismantle 20% of it and give the ease of sanctions because of that.” Nobody would buy that. That’s exactly what Iran is trying to do. They’re trying to give a partial deal that they know could end up dissolving the sanctions regime and would keep them with the nuclear weapons capabilities.

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The U.S. Congress, which has layered sanctions on top of sanctions specifically to compel the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, should be alarmed.

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This prime minister, faced with the alternative, on one hand, of a nuclear-armed Iran, and, on the other, with the necessity of military action that would incur the wrath of the usual suspects (e.g. Europe, the United Nations) would, I have no doubt, choose the latter. He is, after all, not elected to please the “international community,” but to preserve and protect the Jewish state.

Perhaps the president should use a similar analysis: Is he willing to allow a nuclear-armed Iran, which in a  few years would be matched by an intercontinental ballistic missile system, or is he determined to protect the United States and the West from a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamist state? It is precisely because there is doubt as to which he would choose that Israel, our Gulf and European allies and every American should be very, very worried.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia gives a medal to U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009

And the Saudis are indeed worried – to the extent that Saudi Arabia is warning of a shift away  from America’s influence:

Upset at U.S. President Barack Obama’s policies on Iran and Syria, members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are threatening a rift with the United States that could take the alliance between Washington and the kingdom to its lowest point in years.

Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief is vowing that the kingdom will make a “major shift” in relations with the U.S. to protest perceived American inaction over Syria’s civil war as well as recent U.S. overtures to Iran, a senior Saudi source said on Tuesday.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that the U.S. had failed to act effectively against Syrian President Bashar Assad and help resolve Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He lamented further that the U.S. was growing closer to Tehran and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed an anti-government revolt in 2011, the source said.

“The shift away from the U.S. is a major one,” the source said. “Saudi doesn’t want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent.”

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In unusually blunt public remarks, Prince Turki al-Faisal called Obama’s policies in Syria “lamentable” and ridiculed a U.S.-Russian deal to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons. He suggested it was a ruse to let Obama avoid military action in Syria.

“The current charade of international control over Bashar’s chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious. And designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down [from military strikes], but also to help Assad to butcher his people,” said Prince Turki, a member of the Saudi royal family and former director of Saudi intelligence.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have been allies since the kingdom was declared in 1932, giving Riyadh a powerful military protector and Washington secure oil supplies.

The Saudi criticism came days after the 40th anniversary of the October 1973 Arab oil embargo imposed to punish the West for supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur war.

That was one of the low points in U.S.-Saudi ties, which were also badly shaken by the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

Saudi Arabia gave a clear sign of its displeasure over Obama’s foreign policy last week when it rejected a coveted two-year term on the U.N. Security Council in a display of anger over the failure of the international community to end the war in Syria and act on other Middle East issues.

Prince Turki indicated that Saudi Arabia would not reverse that decision, which he said was a result of the Security Council’s failure to stop Assad and implement its own decision on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Prince Bandar is seen as a foreign policy hawk, especially on Iran. The Sunni Muslim kingdom’s rivalry with Shiite Iran, an ally of Syria, has amplified sectarian tensions across the Middle East.

“Prince Bandar told diplomats that he plans to limit interaction with the U.S.,” the source close to Saudi policy said.

The Americans are not taking these threats lying down:

Representative Chris Van Hollen, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Democratic leadership, told Reuters’ Washington Summit on Tuesday that the Saudi moves were intended to pressure Obama to take action in Syria.

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Representative Chris Van Hollen, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Democratic leadership, told Reuters’ Washington Summit on Tuesday that the Saudi moves were intended to pressure Obama to take action in Syria.

UN - Useless Nations

UN – Useless Nations

The Jerusalem Post analyses the reasons for Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented rejection of a seat in the Security Council:

Was it because of Israel and the Palestinian issue, or – more likely – because of frustration and anger directed at the US and other world powers over inaction in Syria and the recent rapprochement underway with Iran? And wouldn’t it serve Saudi interests to be on the council, influencing decisions, rather than on the sidelines? Perhaps the general dysfunction of the council, along with the blocking action by China and Russia preventing effective measures against Syria and Iran, have left the Saudis feeling they have nothing to gain from joining.

n the Saudi-backed daily Asharq Alawsat, Hussein Shobokshi wrote an article titled “Rejection is better than capitulation.”

It stated that “Saudi Arabia made the Syrian revolution one of the pillars of its foreign policy,” while Security Council members Russia and China “have both overtly supported [Syrian President] Bashar Assad’s regime, which continues its merciless killing of the Syrian people.”

Thus, accepting the position would have held Saudi Arabia back from pursuing its own agenda in Syria, by putting it at odds with the rest of the council.

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Could the move be a show to grab the world’s attention? Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and former Israeli ambassador to the UN, told the The Jerusalem Post that the Saudis are demonstrating “very unusual behavior.” Some pundits have argued that the Saudi government, on account of its leadership’s age, is incapable of taking any forceful action, “but this decision of Saudi Arabia shows how wrong these analysts were,” he said.

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Mordechai Kedar, director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation) and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, wrote on his blog that the Saudis publicly expressed that they were taking a moral stand on the Palestinian and Syrian issue, but failed to directly mention Iran.

Ironically, Israel is not a threat to the Saudis, but the Iranians and their pursuit of nuclear weapons are, Kedar said.

Kedar believes that Middle Eastern culture can help explain why the Saudis declined to join and become a second-class member in comparison to the first class veto-wielding members of the Council: US, Russia, UK, France and China.

“A Saudi will not accept second-class membership. He would rather remain on the outside because his honor is more important to him than anything else,” Kedar said.

Kedar told The Jerusalem Post that if Russia and China were to veto Saudi initiatives, the Saudis would get embarrassed because their vote was not as important, and that would put them in a shameful position.

“I don’t think the Saudis are thinking about the national interest. What you understand as the national interest, they think about as the family interest,” he said, pointing out that if the al-Saud family could benefit from sitting on the Council, they would do it.

The Saudis, he said, calculate that the damage caused by joining is greater than the benefits they could gain.

Brandon Friedman, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University and a researcher at its Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, told the Post that he believes the Saudis are registering their dissatisfaction at the UN for not stopping the slaughter of Sunni Arabs in Syria. The Saudis see things through the prism of the US-Russian agreement of non-intervention, he said.

“It is hard to overstate how upset the Saudis were with that decision,” Friedman said.

It’s a very strange feeling to find myself sympathetic to the Saudis, albeit for diametrically opposed reasons, for America’s behaviour in the Middle East of late. We Israelis too wanted the West to intervene in Syria, not to help the rebels win, but to make sure that both sides lose, or at least don’t get their hands on chemical weapons.  We too want the West to challenge Iran forcefully, not because we want the Sunnis to win over the Shiites, but simply to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power to threaten the world.

And we too think that the UN Security Council is a bigoted anti-Israel talking shop generating more hot air and contributing more to global warming than any man-made industry.

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2 Responses to Saudi Arabia rejects UNSC seat, threatens to shift away from America

  1. peteca1 says:

    anne – I think it helps to take 100 steps backwards and view the problem from a very big perspective. Clearly, America’s role in the world is changing. At some time in the future the USA will not be the preeminent superpower, and the US dollar will no longer be the international currency. Things will change. And they are changing quite rapidly. This is affecting America’s old time allies a lot – as they try to work out what the “future world” will really look like. So if you look at the policy changes happening in countries like Israel, Japan, S. Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico – you can see that the world is adjusting. Likewise, if you look at the re-alignment of countries like Syria, Iran, Iraq and Russia – there are trends developing there too. It’s just that no-one knows what that new multi-polar world is going to look like … exactly.
    Pete, USA

  2. Pingback: Guest Post: Strange bedfellows in the Middle East? Will Israel strike Iran alone? | Anne's Opinions

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