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Saudi Arabia and the Diplomatic Hissy Fit. Why?

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Saudi Arabia won a seat on the prestigious U.N. Security Council last week and resigned it a day later. It gave a pile of reasons, some of them spurious because it had known since April -and not October -- that its candidature for the Council was unopposed.

We may never know why Riyadh made the unprecedented decision when it did. But it is clear the government hung its hard-working U.N. delegation out to dry.

Or perhaps the sudden withdrawal -- after the 193-U.N. General Assembly had voted for Saudi Arabia -- spurred us all to keep writing about the kingdom's views as well as its idiosyncratic rulers.

What has changed since April? Not much and a lot.

In a statement from the Saudi Arabian Foreign Affairs Ministry, the kingdom said "the manner, the mechanisms of action and double standards" prevented the body from performing its duties towards preserving international peace and security.

This has been true for several years.

The statement also highlighted the Israel-Palestinian situation. This too has not changed since April.

Impunity for Damascus
And it said Syria felt empowered to perpetuate the killing of its people, without facing punishment. There is some truth to this. The United States had threatened but did not intervene in Syria and instead pursued the destruction of chemical weapons, which will mean negotiating with the regime.

This week, Saudi members of the ruling family have tried to explain their diplomacy.

Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, told European diplomats that the Obama administration, had failed to act effectively against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and was growing closer to Iran.

In Washington, another senior Saudi prince, Turki al-Faisal, called Obama's Syrian policies "lamentable" and suggested the deal to remove chemical weapons was a ruse to avoid military action.

So was Saudi Arabia's pique aimed at the United States and all Shi'a regimes in the region? The Iranian situation appears to be easing with the new president, Hassan Rouhani, engaging on the country's nuclear program.

Right frequency
Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor, in a speech on the Middle East to the Security Council, alluded to Saudi Arabia's apprehension about Iran's nuclear ambitions. "Their voices are harder to hear, but if you tune into the right frequency you will discover that they are frightened."

Or... was Saudi Arabia tired of hearing about its human rights abuses, which were put in stark relief during its run for a Council seat. But then again this has never bothered the kingdom before.

The Security Council, whose decisions can be mandatory for all 193 states, has five permanent members: Russia, China, United States, Britain, France. It has 10 members who rotate for two year terms, five each year.

Usually the coveted seats are hotly contested but this year nominations from regions had no real opposition. Nigeria, Chad, Chile, Lithuania and Saudi Arabia comprised a "clean slate."

These five nations replace Togo, Guatemala, Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Morocco and will join Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, South Korea and Rwanda on the Council in 2014.

Founding member
Saudi Arabia, a founding member of the United Nations in 1945, has held the General Assembly presidency but never tried for a Security Council seat.

Rather than send an inarticulate prince-ling to the UN as a reward, Saudi Arabia built up its staff and sent them to the Institute of Diplomatic Studies at Columbia University.

Its U.N. ambassador, Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi, spoke warmly about his election on October 17 (see video). And at the time of this writing, the website of the Saudi Arabian U.N. mission still reads: "Historic feat for Saudi Arabia: elected non (permanent) member of the UN Security Council."

Now Kuwait or another Gulf nation will vie for the seat. Unless Saudi Arabia changes its mind. But none of the above explains why the kingdom delayed until the Council election was over. Go figure