Obama Headed To Jordan; Talks To Focus On Syrian Crisis

on March 22 2013 7:14 AM
Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledges the audience after delivering a speech on policy at the Jerusalem Convention Center Thursday. Reuters

President Barack Obama is set to fly to Jordan Friday for talks with King Abdullah II, after wrapping up his visit to Israel where he spent the last two days dealing with the historic tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

The president’s visit to Jordan, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, will focus on the spill over effect of the Syrian conflict on Jordan.

Jordan is reeling under a huge refugee influx from Syria, which has strained its energy, water, health and education services to the limit.

Though Jordan has been home to more than 360,000 Syrians, human rights groups said it "routinely and unlawfully" denies entry to many, and urged Obama to bring up the issue of Jordan’s alleged discrimination against the Syrian refugees, Reuters news agency reported.

Palestinians who lived in Syria were regularly turned back by Jordanian border guards, the groups said, as are single Syrian men and refugees who arrive without identity cards.

"Discriminating against Palestinians and single males as ineligible to seek asylum within Jordan violates Jordan's international legal obligations," Meera Shah, clinical advocacy fellow at the Harvard Clinic, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

"Jordan should treat individuals in these categories the same as all other asylum seekers fleeing the fighting in Syria,” she said.

While the Obama administration officially endorses the Syrian opposition coalition, Washington’s support is limited to non-lethal aid over concerns that Al-Qaeda-linked groups are taking control of the Syrian crisis.

Jordan has taken a neutral stance on Syria, advocating a policy of non-interference in Syrian matters while supporting a “political solution” for the crisis.

"Jordan's position has always been clear. The kingdom's priority is to protect its own border, while at the same time preserve Syria's unity,” Jordanian information minister and government spokesman Samih Maaytah said Mar. 17, responding to Syrian allegations that Jordan and Lebanon were allowing militants and arms to flow through their open borders with Syria.

A senior U.S. official said Obama aimed to reassure the king on security challenges and on dealing with 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 told AFP news agency.

“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.”

The president and the king are also expected to hold talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jordan, which has signed peace treaties with Israel, is seen as a potential key player in any future U.S.-led peace initiative. It also has a majority Palestinian population.

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