Iran and Saudi Arabia jockey for champions of the Arab Spring

Saudi Arabia took its regional rivalry with Iran to the United Nations this week, tabling a new General Assembly resolution deploring Tehran for its alleged role in an assassination attempt against the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir. The Saudi initiative comes as the Gulf kingdom, which has supported the violent crackdown of demonstrators in ...

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MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images
MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images
MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia took its regional rivalry with Iran to the United Nations this week, tabling a new General Assembly resolution deploring Tehran for its alleged role in an assassination attempt against the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir.

The Saudi initiative comes as the Gulf kingdom, which has supported the violent crackdown of demonstrators in Bahrain, and Iran, which has repressed anti-government protesters at home, are both seeking to portray themselves here at Turtle Bay as champions of the Arab Spring.

Saudi Arabia took its regional rivalry with Iran to the United Nations this week, tabling a new General Assembly resolution deploring Tehran for its alleged role in an assassination attempt against the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir.

The Saudi initiative comes as the Gulf kingdom, which has supported the violent crackdown of demonstrators in Bahrain, and Iran, which has repressed anti-government protesters at home, are both seeking to portray themselves here at Turtle Bay as champions of the Arab Spring.

Saudi diplomats have played a pivotal role in ratcheting up diplomatic pressure in the Arab League and at the United Nations on Syria, another regional rival, Tehran, meanwhile, has denounced Washington and Riyadh for introducing the use of military force to affect change in Libya and Bahrain.

“We were the first ones to welcome the uprisings of the peoples,” Dr. Javad Larijani, the secretary general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, told reporters at a breakfast on Tuesday. “We are going to support this movement to help them reach the goal they want.”

But Iran has playing defense this week at the United Nations, challenging Saudi claims that it sought to kill one of its top diplomats. In a letter to the U.N. General Assembly president, Nassir Abdulaziz Nasser, Iran’s U.N. ambassador Mohammad Khazee, denounced the Saudi’s U.S.-backed initiative to condemn Iran for an “unsubstantiated allegation” that it orchestrated the assassination plot.

“It is evident that placing hypothetical, circumstantial and unsubstantiated matters on the agenda of this august body would be a gross disservice” to the United Nations, Khazee wrote. A vote on the resolution “would run the risk of turning [the General Assembly] into a venue for settling political scores.” 

The resolution, which was obtained by Turtle Bay, expresses alarm at the “new and recurring acts of violence against diplomatic and consular representatives” around the world. It calls on Iran to cooperate with foreign governments seeking to hold the masterminds of the alleged plot accountable for their crime.

It enjoys strong backing from the United States. “We believe it would represent a broad and strong international condemnation of the Iranian plot,” said Mark Kornblau, the spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

The Saudis are planning to brief the U.N. membership later this afternoon on the alleged plot. The resolution “deplores the plot to assassinate the ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States” and  “strongly condemns acts of violence against diplomatic and consular missions” in general.

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch

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