Jordan’s King Abdullah discusses Syrian refugees with U.S. officials

Click photo to download. Caption: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Stuart E. Jones, meets with King Abdullah II of Jordan before a session of the World Economic Forum in Dead Sea, Jordan, on May 26, 2013. Credit: U.S. State Department.

By Dmitriy Shapiro/JNS.org/Washington Jewish Week

Jordan’s King Abdullah II made the rounds of official Washington last week, meting with members of Congress, Pentagon officials, Secretary of State John Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden, and President Barack Obama. Chief among the issues discussed was the ongoing civil war in Syria.

Abdullah met with Obama again later in the week at Sunnylands, the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Afterwards, the president announced that he would ask Congress to approve increased aid to Jordan.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee “welcomed” the king to Capitol Hill to address “the Syrian refugee crisis, growing instability in the Middle East, Jordan’s security and economic concerns and other issues,” stated the committee’s chairman, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA).

“Bipartisan support for Jordan’s leadership in the region was evident,” Royce said.

Talks in Geneva aimed at brokering a possible cease-fire to the conflict broke down Monday, focusing increased attention on the plight of those fleeing the violence. According to a senior House aide who asked to remain anonymous because of her position, Jordan’s monarch spoke to legislators about the fallout in his country from an influx of approximately 600,000 Syrian refugees.

Approximately 100,000 children of refugees would have to be registered into Jordanian schools this year, Abdullah pointed out, because his country guarantees education to noncitizens. Health clinics have been swamped beyond capacity and funding, he told his interlocutors on the Hill, and the Syrian refugee camp of Zaatari in northern Jordan is now the fourth-largest city in the country in terms of population.

What the king wants is an end to the conflict.

“He [King Abdullah] still thinks there is time to arm the opposition, particularly the Free Syrian Army in the south,” the aide told JNS.org. “The north has been sort of taken over by some of the al-Qaeda affiliates, but in the south he is still confident that the Free Syrian Army can both defeat [Syrian President Bashar Al]-Assad and overpower the extremists.”

The meeting with the foreign affairs committee lasted more than an hour, with members rotating to run back to the House floor to cast votes. The representatives asked the king to weigh in on ongoing multilateral negotiations to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program and the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Abdullah praised the diplomatic efforts undertaken by Kerry on both fronts. The king said that he believes international sanctions were effective in bringing Iran to the negotiating table and that the U.S. should keep up that pressure. He emphasized, however, the need to let diplomacy take its course.

The king also struck a conciliatory tone about the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, pointing to his January meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“He underscored how important it is that members of Congress support Netanyahu during the negotiations,” said the congressional aide. “There are going to be some tough decisions ahead for both Netanyahu and [Palestinian Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas and members of Congress should be there for them as they make those tough decisions and give them the political space to do that.”

According to the White House, Obama will meet with Netanyahu on March 3.

This article is exclusive to JNS.org.

Download this story in Microsoft Word format here.

Posted on February 18, 2014 and filed under News, U.S., World.