President Obama met with King Abdullah II and his son, Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, in Jordan Friday and afterward immediately announced he would seek $200 million in additional U.S. aid to help care for Syrian refugees flooding into the country.
“This will mean more humanitarian assistance and basic services, including education for Syrian children so far from home, whose lives have been upended,” Mr. Obama said at a joint press conference with the king. “And as parents we can only imagine how heartbreaking that must be for any parent to see their children having to go through the kind of tumult that they’re experiencing.”
Dealing with an influx of refugees from Syria’s civil war topped the meeting’s agenda. As Syrian President Bashar Assad clings to power amid a civil war, Jordan has already absorbed more than 460,000 refugees across its borders and King Abdullah is worried that number could double by the end of the year.
“Obviously, this has added economic and financial costs due to the influx and has further strained the economy that is already under considerable pressures with an unstable region, a sluggish economy that is still recovering,” the king said.
Expressing gratitude for the U.S. assistance, the king said he would continue to keep the borders open to Syrian refugees and appealed to the entire international community for more help to face this “humanitarian calamity.”
“I mean, how are you going to turn back women, children and the wounded?” he asked. “This is something that we just can’t do. It’s not the Jordanian way.”
Pressed on why the U.S. has not taken a more interventionist approach to the Syria’s civil war, even as the government and rebels traded accusations of chemical weapons use, Mr. Obama stuck by his stand that the U.S. should not unilaterally impose its will on foreign governments.
While Mr. Obama called the bloodshed “heartbreaking,” he highlighted the State Department’s work to help form a coherent Syrian Opposition Council, and provide training resources and humanitarian assistance. He said it is better to work along with “interested parties in the region” and allow the people of a country to determine their own future.
On Thursday, Mr. Obama said he is extremely skeptical of reports that the Syrian people launched a chemical weapons attack on opposition rebels, but he said the United Nations is investigating the charges to find out exactly what happened. He also reiterated his threat that chemical use by the Assad regime would force the U.S. government to act, calling the such an attack “a game-changer from our perspective.”
He repeated his call for Mr. Assad to step down but said the international community should be focusing its efforts on what happens after he leaves, calling his departure only a matter of time.
“We can’t do it alone, and the outcome in Syria is not going to be ideal — even if we execute our assistance and our coordination and our planning and support flawlessly. The situation in Syria now is going to be difficult,” he said. “That’s what happens when you have a leader who cares more about clinging to power than they do about holding their country together and looking after their people.”
Asked if Jordan’s previous offer of asylum for Mr. Assad still on the table, King Abdullah said that is a question the Syrian leader has to answer himself. Leaders in the international community are still consulting on whether that is the best move to end the violence as quickly as possible.
“So if the issue of asylum ever came up, that’s something that I think all of us would have to put our heads together to figure out whether or not, if that sort of ends the violence quickly, it’s something worth pursuing,” he said.