Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1169, (24 - 30 October 2013)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1169, (24 - 30 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Commentary: An unprecedented decision

In a surprise move, the Saudi government declined 18 October a non-permanent seat on the Security Council that it won 24 hours earlier by 176 out of 189 votes, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

In an announcement Friday, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that due to the fact that the Security Council has “failed” in carrying out its primary role in maintaining international peace and security — including its failure in tackling the Palestinian problem, the Syrian crisis and its failure to rid the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction — it had no option but to decline a seat on the council.

The decision raised questions as the reasons behind it. Most Arab commentators close to Gulf circles welcomed it; others said it sounded an alarm bell on the effectiveness of the UN System in finding solutions to pressing problems of world concern — particularly Arab problems.

The three core issues cited in the communiqué of the Saudi Foreign Ministry have been of great importance for the Arab world and the international community for years. Whether the Security Council has failed or not in addressing them will remain a matter of controversy. But the record shows that this august body has made a difference in the way the international community worked with Arab countries to find diplomatic solutions to the most intractable issues — namely, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue.

In this respect, the Arab Peace Plan of 2002 is based on Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967, and Security Council Resolution 338 of 22 October 1973. Then come the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly as well as the Security Council on various aspects of the conflict from 1948 until today.

I believe the reasons for the Saudi decision have mostly to do with the rapidly changing Middle Eastern strategic environment. In the last two months, the world has witnessed a phone call between US President Barack Obama and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, a call that came to usher in a new chapter not only in American-Iranian relations, but also in the history of the Middle East.

Whether history will consider it a milestone, it is too early to say. On the other hand, the growing understanding among various parties in negotiating a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear file, the P5+1 and Iran, as shown in the latest round of negotiations at Geneva last week could lead the way, in a gradual manner, to lifting international sanctions on Iran. Put otherwise, the start of a process of normalisation in relations between the West and Iran.

London and Tehran agreed this week to name charges d’affaires. It will not come as a surprise if a similar move on the part of Washington materialises sometime next year, depending on the progress of negotiations related to the Iranian nuclear programme issue, and how far Iran will cooperate with the West in finding a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis in the framework of the Geneva II peace conference expected next month.

Furthermore, the US-Russian framework agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons and the subsequent Security Council Resolution 2118 took the Saudis by surprise. They had been great supporters of punishing Bashar Al-Assad after the alleged use of chemical weapons in August by Syrian government troops against rebels (the Russians and Syria deny this version of the attack). The fact that the US administration decided not to strike Syria left Saudi Arabia questioning how far could the White House could be trusted in matters of crucial importance to the Saudis and the Arabs in general.

Another major question in this context is whether Arab interests will be taken into consideration when the time of concluding agreements comes.

Saudi diplomacy is known for its legendary discretion and avoidance of confrontation. It always strives to build consensus. Having a seat on the Security Council in these fast changing times, amid momentous developments in the Middle East and the Gulf, could have compelled Saudi diplomacy to break with Saudi diplomatic traditions, and maybe this concentrated minds in Saudi Arabia. The last thing they want is disagreements with allies and adversaries in public.

It is being said that the Arab Group at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City is trying to convince Saudi Arabia to reconsider its decision. I hope they succeed in their endeavours.


The writer is former assistant to the foreign minister.


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