Saudis Lash out at UN Council After Rejecting Seat

Saudi Arabia's U.N. ambassador lashed out at the Security Council on Tuesday and indicated that his country is standing by its decision to reject the seat it was elected to on the U.N.'s most powerful body.

It was Abdallah Al-Mouallimi's first public appearance following Saudi Arabia's unprecedented and stunning about-face Friday when it rejected a council seat just hours after the General Assembly elected the Mideast oil giant to serve a two-year term.

Al-Mouallimi delivered a scathing attack on the Security Council's failures to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Syria, and to convene a conference on creating a zone in the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction at a day-long council meeting Tuesday on Mideast hotspots.

Those were the same three issues that the Saudi Foreign Ministry raised in its strident statement Friday rejecting the Security Council seat.

But Al-Mouallimi's tough words Tuesday were in stark contrast to his last public appearance, speaking to reporters after Saudi Arabia's election to the council on Thursday. Then, he said his government took the election "very seriously" and saw it as "a reflection of a longstanding policy in support of moderation and in support of resolving disputes in peaceful means."

Because the rejection of a seat on the Security Council by an elected member is unprecedented, there are no rules to follow.

Arab ambassadors at the U.N. held an "extraordinary" meeting on Saturday and expressed hope that Saudi Arabia would keep the seat "at this important and historical stage, specifically for the Middle East region ... and continue their brave role in defending our issues specifically at the rostrum of the Security Council."

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters he had not received official notification from Saudi Arabia that it was rejecting the seat — and U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky reiterated Tuesday that the U.N. chief, the Security Council and the General Assembly have still heard nothing from the Saudis.

As Al-Mouallimi left, the Security Council reporters asked whether Saudi Arabia planned to send the secretary-general an official letter, whether it would respond to the Arab ambassadors request, and whether there was a chance it would change its mind.

Al-Mouallimi had the same response to the three questions: "We refer you to the statement issued by the Foreign Ministry."

The Saudis were selected by the Asia group for an Arab seat on the council. If they do officially give up the seat, the group would then need to select a new candidate — or candidates — for approval by the 193-member General Assembly.

France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters earlier Tuesday that "there is no agreed procedure, because it is the first time that it happens." He called an official letter from the Saudis a "very secondary issue," stressing that "there is no ambiguity in their position."

But when Moroccan Ambassador Mohammed Loulichki was asked if the Arab group had decided which country would fill the Saudi seat, he replied: "Why? The seat is not empty yet, because no notification has been sent officially to the United Nations. I think, legally speaking, it is a must."

The Saudis were selected by the Asia group for an Arab seat on the council. If they do officially give up the seat, the group would then need to select a new candidate — or candidates — for approval by the 193-member General Assembly.

Al-Mouallimi didn't mention the council seat in his Security Council speech, but he attacked the council's failure "to safeguard international peace and security."

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said: "It is time for your council to renounce its policy of laxism. It needs to demonstrate more effectiveness to address the Palestinian question."

Saudi Arabia backs the rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad in a war that has killed some 100,000 people since early 2011. Assad's allies Russia and China have blocked three strongly worded Security Council resolutions aimed at ending the conflict.

Still, in a rare consensus, the council passed a resolution backed by the U.S. and Russia to destroy Syria's chemical weapons arsenal after an Aug. 21 chemical attack.

Al-Mouallimi accused the Syrian regime of "continuing its campaign of extermination against the Syrian people," and he accused the council of failing to protect the Syrian people because of the repeated vetoes.

The Saudi ambassador said the council must also prevent Syria from using the resolution requiring the elimination of its chemical weapons and calling for a peace conference "as a delaying tactic."

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