Syrian Refugees Focus of Obama's Talks With Jordan's King Abdullah II

Jordan is a close ally of the U.S. and is among the largest recipients of American aid, collecting about $1 billion annually for the past five years.

Syria's three-year-old civil war and its fallout in neighbouring countries were the central focus of talks between Jordan's King Abdullah II and U.S. President Barack Obama, who said a political solution wasn't expected in the short term.

The two met late Friday at Sunnylands Villa, a private residence in Southern California.

Acknowledging the strain caused to the Jordanian economy by the massive numbers of Syrian refugees taking refuge there, Obama assured Abdullah of U.S. support and announced that he will ask Congress to approve a new round of financial aid for Jordan.

But, he said, "at the same time, both of us recognize that we can't just treat the symptoms ... we're also going to have to solve the underlying problem - a regime led by Bashar Assad that has shown very little regard for the well-being of his people ... We are going to need a political transition in that region."

Obama said that "we're going to continue to strategize on how we can effectively change the calculus inside the country so that we can have a Syria that is intact."
He warned, however, that there would be no political solution expected in the short term.

"There will be some intermediate steps that we can take to apply more pressure to the Assad regime," Obama said, without elaborating on what those measures would be.

Nearly 600,000 Syrians, about one-tenth of the Jordanian population, have crossed the border and sought refuge in Jordan.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has estimated that it will cost the government of King Abdullah about $900 million to host the refugees this year alone.

Obama said he will seek $1 billion in loan guarantees for Jordan, using the full faith and credit of the United States to help make it easier for Jordan to borrow money.

The new guarantee would be on top of a $1.25 billion loan guarantee Congress approved last year, the first one ever for Jordan.

Under a loan guarantee, the U.S. essentially acts like a co-signer on loans and would be responsible for repaying the principal and interest should Jordan default.
Obama also will seek a new, five-year funding agreement for Jordan. Administration officials did not immediately say what level of funding would be sought, saying that detail remained to be worked out. An existing five-year funding agreement with Jordan expires in September.

Both the loan guarantees and the funding agreement require approval from Congress.