A day after winning a two-year term on the UN Security Council, Saudi Arabia said Friday it will not take up its seat, citing "double standards" in resolving world conflicts, particularly in Syria. UN officials say is an unprecedented move.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had no other option but to turn down Security Council membership until the 15-nation council is reformed and has the means to accomplish its duties and assume its responsibilities in preserving the world's peace and security.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters he is still considering how to handle the matter.
"I have taken note of the media reports regarding the decision of Saudi Arabia, but I would like to caution you that I have not received any official notification in this regard. I encourage all member states to fully engage with the principal organs of the United Nations while advancing their efforts to improve their working methods," said Ban.
The announcement shocked many diplomats, especially as Saudi UN Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi had welcomed their election on Thursday.
"We take this election very seriously as a responsibility to be able to contribute through this very important forum to peace and security of the world. Our election today is a reflection of a long-standing policy in support of moderation and in support of resolving disputes in peaceful means," said Al-Mouallimi.
French Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters Friday he could understand Saudi Arabia's frustration with the Security Council, particularly on Syria.
"We think Saudi Arabia would have brought a very positive contribution to the Security Council. But we do also understand the frustration of Saudi Arabia. The fact is that the Security Council has been unable to act for more than two years. We have tried repeatedly to move forward. You know some countries have opposed, repeatedly, vetoes for all of our contributions," said Araud.
Guatemala's Ambassador Gert Rosenthal said he was surprised by the move and expected that the Asia-Pacific regional group would have to meet to discuss what would happen next.
"This has never happened, as far as I know, it's never happened. But probably, if they don't recant, the regional group will have to come up with an alternative candidate. If it comes to the GA [General Assembly] endorsed, the GA is going to sign off on it," said Rosenthal.
The next likely step would be that the regional group would have to find and agree upon another candidate to send to the General Assembly for approval, if Saudi Arabia does not change its mind.
During last month's General Assembly annual debate, Saudi Arabia chose not to deliver its speech, or even hand out a written copy, saying it was in protest of the deadlock within the Security Council on Syria.
But the council did make a breakthrough last month, unanimously agreeing on a resolution aimed at the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons and agreeing on a statement on the need for greater humanitarian access.