What started Thursday as a routine action at the United Nations Security Council, the election of non-permanent members, turned into a major drama when Saudi Arabia, one of the five just elected, turned down the seat.
The Security Council is made up of 15 members. Five are permanent: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Ten are non-permanent, with five chosen each year for a two-year term. Last week Chad, Chile, Lithuania, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia were picked to serve until 2015.
On Friday, the Foreign Ministry of Saudi Arabia dropped a bomb by declining the seat and listing grievances against the Security Council for rejecting what is generally considered to be an honor. The Arab Group at the U.N. urged Saudi Arabia to take the seat, while the Arab League recommended refusing it. The country's U.N. delegation was apparently caught by surprise, having lobbied at this General Assembly session for the seat.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said the Security Council had showed its "inability to perform its duties." Specifically, it complained about the U.N.'s inaction on the Syrian war and chemical weapons, the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the presence of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, presumably referring to Iran and Israel.
The Saudis apparently were also expressing annoyance at the United States for avoiding a military attack on Syria by leaving the removal of Syria's chemical weapons up to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, for restarting the Israeli-Palestinian talks and for resuming the long-suspended dialogue with Iran on its nuclear weapons program.
Some Saudi elements may prefer to conduct the kingdom's foreign policy privately, apart from international bodies, thereby forgoing the opportunity that the Security Council provides to swing a bigger bat in global affairs. Saudi rulers may consider that relative isolation is key to the monarchy's preservation in the 21st century, but that remains to be seen.