Amman, Jordan – Jordan’s king and his nation’s top military brass welcomed President Barack Obama to Jordan on Friday with bagpipes and an ensemble of sword-carrying guardsman as the leaders headed into talks focusing on the civil war in Syria.
More than 400,000 refugees have crossed into Jordan to escape two years of bloodshed at home, crowding refugee camps and overwhelming aid agencies run by this important U.S. ally in the Middle East. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has voiced fears that extremists and terrorists could create a regional base in his country.
Obama also will seek to bolster Jordan’s efforts to reform its government in an attempt to stave off an Arab Spring-style revolution that has led to the downfall of longtime leaders in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
Obama arrived in Jordan on Friday evening, the final stop on a four-day visit to the Middle East that included his first stop in Israel as president.
After Air Force One touched down at Queen Alia International Airport in the capital of Amman, Obama was greeted on the red-carpeted tarmac by U.S. and Jordanian officials before the half-hour drive by motorcade to al-Hummar Palace. There, he and Abdullah reviewed the troops assembled in a courtyard, including some sitting on camels, before they retired inside for meetings. Large U.S. and Jordanian flags flapped in the wind.
“I apologize for the delay,” Obama told Abdullah upon arrival, about an hour behind schedule after leaving Israel. “We ended up having a dust storm.”
The two were holding a joint news conference after the meeting, and then reuniting for dinner. On Saturday, Obama planned several hours of sightseeing, a tour of the fabled ancient city of Petra before the return trip to the White House.
President Obama said his administration is working with Congress to provide Jordan with an additional $200 million in aid this year.
Jordan’s economic troubles have been made worse by the influx of more than 450,000 refugees fleeing the civil war across the border in neighboring Syria. The Syrians are crowding refugee camps in Jordan and overwhelming aid agencies run by the important U.S. ally in the Middle East.
The United States already is the largest single donor of humanitarian aid for the Syrian people.
Obama said Friday that the extra money, if approved by Congress, will help provide more humanitarian assistance and basic services.
He made the announcement during a news conference in Amman, Jordan, with King Abdullah II.
Before leaving for Jordan, Obama and Netanyahu met for two hours over lunch. An Israeli official said they discussed Israel’s security challenges and that, in addressing the peace process with Palestinians, Netanyahu stressed the importance of security. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity under diplomatic protocol.
The two leaders met again in a trailer next to a tent on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv before Obama left the country.
In between those meetings, Obama squeezed in a stop in Bethlehem in the West Bank to visit the Church of the Nativity.