Obama Pledges More Aid to Jordan
U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday vowed to step up pressure on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and also pledged to provide Jordan with more aid, AFP reports.
Obama's remarks came as he hosted Jordan's King Abdullah II in California, to address issues including the flood of Syrian refugees into Jordan.
He said both he and the Jordanian king "recognize that we can't just treat the symptoms" of the Syrian crisis.
"We're also going to have to solve the underlying problem -- a regime led by Bashar Al-Assad that has shown very little regard for the well-being of his people.
"We are going to need a political transition in that region," said Obama.
"We don't expect to solve this any time in the short term so there are going to be some immediate steps that we have to take to help the humanitarian situation there," he added.
"There will be some intermediate steps that we can take to apply more pressure to the Assad regime, and we’re going to be continuing to work with all the parties concerned to try to move forward on a diplomatic solution," Obama said, without specifying what those steps may be.
At the meeting with the Jordanian King, Obama pledged $1 billion in loan guarantees to Jordan, as well as a renewal of a five-year memorandum of understanding.
The current five-year package, worth $660 million a year, expires in September.
The funds are aimed in part at helping Jordan ally cope with the flood of Syrian refugees and its loss of natural gas from Egypt, White House officials said.
Since the 2011 ouster of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, terrorists attacked the gas pipeline in Egypt more than a dozen times, causing the country to halt its gas supply to Jordan and Israel. This past summer it was reported that the Jordanian government began holding talks to become the first to purchase natural gas from Israel.
King Abdullah said during the meeting with Obama that the Syrian crisis and the rise of extremism are his country's primary concerns.
Jordan has borne the brunt of much of the humanitarian overflow, with nearly 600,000 Syrian refugees on its soil, straining its infrastructure and finances, noted AFP.
In July, angry Syrian refugees confronted Secretary of State John Kerry as he visited the Zaatari camp in Jordan.
The refugees demanded that Washington do more to end the war in Syria, and urged a no-fly zone to protect areas along the border and those held by rebel forces.
The United States is the largest aid donor to Syrian refugees, so far donating $1.7 billion to the cause, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
A senior administration official said that the $1 billion guarantee will make it easier for Jordan to access capital markets and borrow money.
"It's a signal to the markets of the strong confidence of the United States in Jordan, of our partnership, and of our intention to be there as a partner for Jordan in the long term," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The meeting with the king of Jordan is the first of a trio of meetings between Obama and key Middle East leaders in the coming weeks, noted AFP.
On March 3, Obama will sit down at the White House for his latest meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Then at the end of March, he will travel to Saudi Arabia to meet King Abdullah, who like Netanyahu, has expressed his dissatisfaction with Obama's Iran strategy.
Obama and the Jordanian king also discussed Israel-Palestinian Authority (PA) peace talks at their meeting on Friday, amid reports of tensions in the Hashemite Kingdom, which is reportedly nervous over the implications of a peace treaty for King Abdullah II's tenuous hold over the country.
Jordan's government is hoping to be spared by a popular uprising by having the repressed "Palestinians" removed and sent to Israel as part of the deal.
In January, Jordan expressed its desire to be more closely involved in the talks, and was briefed by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas about the talks. Last Saturday, Jordan declared that it refuses Israel's demand to be recognized as a Jewish state.
Hours before the Obama-Abdullah meeting, hundreds of Islamists rallied in Jordan against a peace deal between Israel and the PA.
The 1,200 protesters affiliated with Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, who demonstrated against Kerry’s peace framework, also burned the Israeli flag and demanded that King Abdullah “revoke the peace treaty with the Zionists.”