Obama to face Syria scrutiny in Jordan

Published: Updated:

A day after challenging Israelis to embrace peace with Palestinians, U.S. President Barack Obama Friday will face scrutiny over his strategy on Syria during an overnight stay in Jordan.

Obama will fly to Amman for talks and a private dinner with King Abdullah II, after wrapping up the first visit to the Jewish state of his presidency by paying homage to Israel’s Theodor Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin.

While the thrust of his visit to Israel was reassurance that the United States would mount an “eternal” defense of the Jewish state amid the Iranian nuclear threat, Obama will turn to the agony of Syria’s civil war in Jordan.

Jordan is sheltering nearly 436,000 Syrian refugees, a figure expected to rise to 700,000 by the end of this year, as people fleeing vicious sectarian fighting between Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebel groups spill over its borders.

Obama has resisted pouring U.S. arms or ammunition into the conflict, which the U.N. estimates has taken at least 70,000 lives, but has offered logistical support to rebels and hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid.

Obama will also support political reform efforts inside Jordan, which has been an oasis of relative calm in a region swept by turmoil following the Arab Spring uprisings.

A senior US official said Obama wanted to coordinate with the king on security challenges and on helping Jordan alleviate the refugee crisis.

“We’re providing a lot of assistance to support Jordan and international organizations that are supporting the refugee population inside of Jordan,” the official said.

“We’re also working very closely with the Jordanian government as part of the coalition of countries that is supporting the Syrian opposition to pressure the regime, to build up the opposition, and try to bring about a new Syria.”

Obama warned during his trip that Washington was investigating claims that chemical weapons have been used during the Syria conflict and warned it would be a “game changer” that could spark international intervention if they were fired off by the Assad regime.

The U.S. leader will wrap up his three-day visit to Israel on Friday by paying homage to Herzl, considered the father of modern Zionism. He will also visit the grave of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Rabin.

After a final short hop to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on the West Bank, which Christians revere as the birthplace of Christ, Obama will fly out of Tel Aviv aboard Air Force One.