WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama pledged $1 billion in loan guarantees for the Kingdom of Jordan late Friday evening during a dinner with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
Jordan, a key US partner in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, has faced an estimated $900 million in expenses related to the influx of refugees to the country from the Syrian civil war to the north.
Even before the meeting, a senior administration official said that the Syrian refugee crisis would be a major topic of discussion, and at its forefront, Jordan’s “extraordinary burden” in absorbing some 600,000 Syrian refugees in a nation of over six million. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the refugees had put a “significant strain on the Jordanian economy, which is already under significant pressure even before the Syrian conflict.”
As part of a five-year agreement, Jordan receives $660 million annually in foreign aid from the United States, but in 2012-2013, additional add-ons brought the total to over $1 billion. The five-year memorandum of understanding will expire in September of this year, and the king is lightly to push for a larger annual aid package.
The two leaders met for what administration officials described as a working dinner at Sunnylands, the former Annenberg family retreat in California.
White House officials stressed that Sunnylands would allow for more open discussion than a more formal meeting in Washington.
“Jordan is an invaluable ally and a close friend of the United States, and Sunnylands offers a private location and less formal setting that will allow the President to have a wide-ranging discussion with the King,” White House Spokesman Jay Carney told reporters earlier Friday. “This meeting is a demonstration of the strength of our partnership with Jordan and our friendship with King Abdullah and the people of Jordan.”
A heady mix of issues was on the menu at the Rancho Mirage estate. The two heads of state were expected to discuss the Jordanian economy, but also the Syrian refugee crisis, the P5+1 talks with Iran, and the faltering Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that seem to have hit a roadblock regarding Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework agreement.
Senior administration officials noted before the meeting that the United States sees Jordan as a “key stakeholder” in the peace process, and emphasized that Washington has “deep appreciation” for King Abdullah’s support for the negotiations.
One senior administration official revealed that the Hashemite king, whose father won a Nobel Prize for his peace treaty with Israel, has recently met with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “to try to urge them to make the compromises that are necessary for peace.”
The official also noted that “the security arrangements that would accompany a peace agreement are among the most important issues that are being negotiated now” and that in that context, both Secretary of State John Kerry and General John Allen have worked with Jordan as well as the two negotiating parties to secure a security framework for the Jordan Valley.
“Without going into details, I think the Jordanians have been extremely cooperative and extremely forward-leaning in thinking about different ways that we can achieve that goal that are also compatible with, obviously, Israel’s security but also Palestinian sovereignty,” said the same senior administration official.
King Abdullah last briefed Obama in April 2013 regarding domestic conditions in the Hashemite Kingdom, and the White House signaled in advance of the meeting that Obama expects to hear updates from the king on domestic reforms in the monarchy.
The two will also continue the discussion started earlier this week between King Abdullah and Vice President Joe Biden regarding what administration officials described as the growing extremist threat that emanates from the Syrian crisis.