WASHINGTON - Saudi Arabia stunned the United Nations and even some of its own diplomats 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 appeared to be unprecedented.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry released a statement rejecting the seat just hours after the kingdom's diplomats - both at the Untied Nations and in Riyadh - 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.
But one Saudi diplomat said the decision had come after weeks of high-level debate about the usefulness of a seat on the Security Council, where Russia and China have repeatedly drawn Saudi anger by blocking all attempts to pressure Syria's president, Bashar Assad. Abdullah has voiced rising frustration with the continuing violence in Syria, a fellow Muslim-majority nation where one of his wives was born. He is said to have been deeply disappointed when President Barack Obama decided against airstrikes on Syria's military in September in favor of a Russian-proposed agreement to secure Syria's chemical weapons.
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.
Diplomats at the United Nations said they did not believe the Saudi decision would be reversed, given its unequivocal and accusatory language.
As of late Friday, the Saudis had not officially notified the United Nations of their decision. Afaf Konja, a spokeswoman for John Ashe, the ambassador for Antigua and Barbuda, who is the president of the General Assembly, said he had not received formal notification nor had held any meetings with Saudi representatives.