Obama and Jordan’s Abdullah Discuss Peace Process, Syrian Refugee Crisis

BY Ellen Rolfes  March 22, 2013 at 10:09 AM EST

Updated — 5:45 p.m. ET:

At the end of his Middle East tour, President Barack Obama traveled to Amman, Jordan Friday to meet with King Abdullah II. Both countries’ leaders emphasized their strong alliance and commitment to security and peace in the region.

One of the highlights of their discussions was Syria and the growing refugee problem in neighboring Jordan. The Associated Press reported that the nation hosts 500,000 refugees from Syria or about 9 percent of Jordan’s total current population.

In the conference Friday, King Abdullah reported that his government anticipated the number of Syrians in Jordan could potentially double by the end of the year. “That would be like 30 million crossing over the border into the United States,” he said. He added that the Zaatari desert refugee camp is now the fifth largest city in Jordan.



Syrian refugees cross the border from Syria into Jordan, near Mafraq. Jordan provides free health and education services for more than 200,000 U.N.-registered Syrian refugees, according to officials. Photo by Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images.

Abdullah reasoned that action needed to be taken in order to avoid “prolonged sectarian conflict” in Syria. Inaction could “lead to the fragmentation of Syria and have disastrous effects on the region,” he said.

This sentiment was consistent with the king’s past statements. In 2012, when Abdullah visited the United States and told PBS senior correspondent Margaret Warner that he expected the “loss of life” to continue in Syria and that the key players “don’t really know what to do” about the conflict in the Middle Eastern country.

With a total of 70,000 Syrians dead, Abdullah voiced concern that the international community needed to step up, increasing humanitarian aid in Syria and for countries like Jordan playing host to Syrian refugees and preventing the radicalization of Syrian politics.

The influx of refugees — Abdullah said the Jordanian government would not close its borders to future refugees — has created social, economic and security concerns in his kingdom. “[We] have opened our arms to many throughout our history,” said Abdullah. But if the $550 million in costs related to Syrians fleeing to Jordan also doubles along with the number of total refugees in Jordan, Abdullah conceded that it will have a tremendous effect on the economy.

In February, the Obama administration disbursed another $60 million in humanitarian aid to the Syrian rebels to provide basic needs for war-torn communities, including sanitation, medical care and food delivery, as well as to build up the organizational capacity of the Syrian Opposition Coalition.

At the press conference Friday, President Obama reiterated the importance to find a political solution and announced his intentions to work with Congress in order to provide an additional $200 million to Jordan to assist in rising costs regarding ever-increasing numbers of refugees.

President Obama and King Abdullah also addressed the need for a two-state solution and reiterated the contributions and efforts of the U.S. and Jordanian governments to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

While Jordan has remained a relatively stable country and ally of the U.S., Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook wrote Thursday that there are many more reasons why King Abdullah is now is facing mounting pressures and tensions in the region and from within his Kingdom:

“In January the Jordanians held elections, there have been a spate of protests over food prices, strong criticism of the King from some of the monarchy’s heretofore strong tribal supporters. … The fact that Syria is in chaos, sectarian gangs rule Iraq, Egypt is in turmoil, and predictions of a 3rd Palestinian intifada abound places King Abdullah and his Kingdom in a more uncomfortable position than usual.”


View more on President Obama’s trip to the Middle East on the NewsHour’s World page.