ISIS, Syria dominate Obama talks with Jordan’s king
Washington - A diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria and a focus on the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) are priorities for Jordan and its role as a regional ally of the United States, Jordan’s King Abdullah II said after meeting with US President Barack Obama in Washington.
“We’re all supportive of what [US Secretary of State] John Kerry and [Russian Foreign Minister] Sergei Lavrov are doing as part of a political process but at the same time making sure that the second part of that dimension is the fight against ISIS… I think that both elements are complementary to each other,” King Abdullah said after a one-hour meeting with Obama on February 24th.
He was referring to high-level negotiations between Moscow and Washington to broker a ceasefire in Syria, due to begin February 27th.
Obama sounded cautious in his remarks about the ceasefire, focusing instead on what he described as small victories against ISIS.
“We have seen progress in pushing back against ISIS in territory both in Iraq and now in some portions of Syria,” said Obama.
The United States has led a coalition carrying out air strikes against ISIS positions in Syria, attacks that have forced some retreats by the terrorist organisation.
Jordan is home to more than 600,000 UN-registered Syrian refugees and tens of thousands of non-refugee-status Syrians who fled the war. Jordan has been criticised for the harsh desert conditions in the Zaatari refugee camp, situated on Jordan’s border with Syria, where most of the registered refugees reside.
Jordanian authorities have eased restrictions on the movement of refugees, allowing many to integrate into the country’s economy and leave the camp at will.
Jordan has also been strained by the spillover from Syria’s war as it struggles to share its overstretched medical and education resources with hundreds of thousands of desperate Syrians.
Critics of the kingdom say there is little evidence that the billions of dollars given to Amman since the Syria crisis began to cope with the spillover have been well spent.
“It seems the money disappears after it arrives in Jordan because we see very little infrastructure improvement for either Jordanian citizens or Syrian refugees,” said a scholar who has spent time in Amman since the Syria crisis. The scholar spoke to The Arab Weekly on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Critics also lament that the kingdom may have been too relaxed early in the Syrian conflict when it was allegedly allowing jihadists to travel through to Syria from Gulf countries, an allegation Amman denies.
Abdullah has repeatedly said his country needs more international support to cope with the refugee crisis, which has worsened since Russian air strikes began in September. The European Union promised Jordan about $2 billion in aid but the United States remains the largest single country donor, with $1 billion per year designed to help Jordan deal with the humanitarian crisis and the fight against ISIS.
Jordan is among a handful of Arab countries joining the US-led air campaign against ISIS. In December 2014, ISIS captured Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh after his F-16 crashed and later released footage of him being burned alive, sparking international outrage and leading Jordan to execute a female al-Qaeda operative who had been in Jordanian police custody for years.
Asked about immediate next steps for aiding in the diplomatic solution in Syria, Abdullah said he was pinning his hopes on Russia and the United States securing a ceasefire between Syrian troops and rebels in the areas closest to Jordan.
“Specifically, obviously to the southern part of Syria… can we get a ceasefire going into the south alongside our border as part of a building block of the political process that helps move the politics of this issue forward between the regime and opposition forces?” he added.
“Because at the end of the day, Daesh is the enemy for all of us. And we’ll have to see how things are moving between the two foreign ministers,” said King Abdullah, referring to ISIS by its Arabic acronym.