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October 21 2013

Saudi Arabia's Pointless Theatrics « LobeLog.com

Saudi Arabia’s Pointless Theatrics « LobeLog.com
http://www.lobelog.com/saudi-arabias-pointless-theatrics

by Thomas W. Lippman

Unless the people who run Saudi Arabia know something nobody else does, it’s difficult to see what they hope to achieve by turning down a seat on the United Nations Security Council that the kingdom had worked assiduously to gain. It appears to be the kind of theatrical but pointless gesture the Saudis have always avoided — not on a par with shutting down the U.S. government for no gain, perhaps, but absurd in its own way. The world might have expected this from the late, unlamented Muammar Qadhafi, but not from Saudi Arabia.

Do the Saudis actually believe that the Security Council, chastened by Riyadh’s disapproval, will now force Israel to pull out of the West Bank, or unite to drive Bashar al-Assad out of power in Syria, or head off a possible rapprochement between the United States and Iran? Surely they know better. If they harbor such strong resentment against the Security Council, would they not have more influence over the group’s performance from the inside? And why seek the seat in the first place if they thought the elite group they were trying to join was impotent and feckless, as the statement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry announcing the decision said it was? It is hard to dispute the New York Times’s characterization of the decision as “a self-destructive temper tantrum.”

Saudi Arabia has traditionally pursued its international objectives through quiet diplomacy rather than open confrontation or grand gestures. It may well be that the Saudis would have been uncomfortable on the Security Council, where they might have been forced to take public positions on issues outside their relatively narrow range of interests — on territorial disputes in the Pacific, for example, or peacekeeping deployments in Africa. Did no one in Riyadh think that during the two years the kingdom campaigned for the election to one of the prized non-permanent seats? Apparently not, because the kingdom’s diplomats in Riyadh and New York were celebrating the election as a great success until they were sandbagged on Friday by the Foreign Ministry statement.

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