UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Jordan will replace Saudi Arabia on the Security Council for a two-year term starting in January after the Saudis' unprecedented rejection of the seat hours after they were elected, a U.N. diplomat said Thursday.
The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because the deal was made privately, said Jordan's U.N. Ambassador Prince Zeid al Hussein was flying to Amman on Thursday night to discuss Jordan's new role on the U.N.'s most powerful body.
Earlier this week, Jordan dropped its bid for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, leaving Saudi Arabia a clear path in the now uncontested election next Tuesday.
Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights organization, said: "It is appalling that seats on the world's top human rights body are being traded like merchandise, treated as trinkets by non-democracies."
The U.N. General Assembly, which voted on Oct. 17 to give Saudi Arabia the seat traditionally reserved for an Arab nation on the council, will have to formally approve Jordan as a replacement. Since Jordan is almost certain to be the only candidate, its election is virtually assured.
Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry stunned the diplomatic world with the announcement that it was rejecting the seat, less than 24 hours after it was elected. The Saudis issued a scathing attack on the Security Council's failures to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Syria, and to convene a conference on creating a zone in the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
The rejection appeared largely directed at the country's longtime ally, the United States.
The oil giant and the world's superpower are at odds over a number of Mideast issues, including how Washington has handled some of the region's crises, particularly in Egypt and Syria. It also comes as ties between the U.S. and Iran, the Saudis' regional foe, appear to be improving somewhat.
Jordan, which shares a border with Israel, has been a key behind-the-scenes player in efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. U.S. Secretary of State was in Amman on Thursday trying to rally support for his peace efforts from King Abdullah II and warning of a return to violence if peace efforts fail.
Jordan also shares a border with Syria and has become a major destination for refugees fleeing the 2 1/2-year civil war.
According to the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, Jordan had 250,000 Syrian refugees in January and is expected to have 432,500 in December, second only to Turkey.
In April, Prince Zeid sent a letter to the Security Council saying the refugee crisis had sparked "a grave humanitarian situation" that threatens the country's security and stability.
In August, King Abdullah warned that ethnic and sectarian violence sweeping across several Arab countries could lead to the "destruction" of the Muslim world.
The civil war in Syria has taken on an increasingly sectarian tone, pitting predominantly Sunni rebels against a regime dominated by an offshoot of Shiism, which is allied with Shiite-majority Iran. Jordan is worried that the violence could spill across the border.
Diplomats from a number of countries had tried to persuade Saudi Arabia to change its mind and take the seat, arguing that it could achieve more inside the council than outside. But the Saudis never backed down.
On Oct. 21, Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal sent letters to a number of "friendly countries" seeking support for its decision to turn down the seat. One letter, obtained by AP, said support for the Saudi decision would be deeply appreciated and demonstrate "the depth of bilateral relations between our two countries."