WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia stunned the United Nations and even some of its own diplomats on Friday by rejecting a highly coveted seat on the Security Council, a decision that underscored the depth of Saudi anger over what the monarchy sees as weak and conciliatory Western stances toward Syria and Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.
The Saudi decision, which could have been made only with King Abdullah’s approval, came a day after it had won a Security Council seat for the first time, and it appeared to be unprecedented.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry released a statement rejecting the seat just hours after the kingdom’s own diplomats — both at the United Nations and in Riyadh, the Saudi capital — were celebrating their new seat, the product of two years of work to assemble a crack diplomatic team in New York. Some analysts said the sudden turnabout gave the impression of a self-destructive temper tantrum.
Also on the agenda for Saudi Arabia are the nuclear talks between the US and Iran.
And Saudi officials made no secret of their fear that a nuclear deal between Iran and the West, the subject of multilateral talks this week in Geneva with another round scheduled for early November, could come at their expense, leaving them more exposed to their greatest regional rival.
The Saudi decision may also reflect a broader debate within the Saudi ruling elite about how to wield influence: the Saudis have long resisted taking a seat on the Security Council, believing it would hamper their discreet diplomatic style.
Or was throwing in the towel their way of throwing the game?
“The Saudis no doubt quickly realized that being on the U.N.S.C. would mean they could no longer pursue their traditional back seat and low-key policies and therefore decided to give it up,” said Bernard Haykel, a professor of Middle East studies at Princeton University and an authority on Saudi Arabia.
“Regardless of the short-term costs, a seat on the U.N.S.C. may have also meant that Saudi Arabia would be more constrained in backing the Syrian opposition,” Mr. Haykel said.