from Middle East Matters and Middle East Program

Jordanian King Abdullah at the White House: What a Difference a Month Makes

April 24, 2013

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King Abdullah of Jordan is slated to meet President Obama at the White House on Friday. Though meetings between the two leaders are frequent and even commonplace, it is still noteworthy that the Hashemite leader is meeting the president just four weeks after hosting him in Jordan. World leaders don’t meet that frequently unless there is something urgent to discuss, and there is: Syria.

The crisis in neighboring Syria is of utmost concern to King Abdullah, and it should be. Half a million Syrians having taken refuge in Jordan so far—10 percent of the kingdom’s population—and there is no end to the refugee flow in sight. Abdullah noted when he met Obama in Amman that though the number of Syrian refugees in Jordan could easily double by the end of the year, the kingdom would not shut its border to Syrian refugees—“It’s not the Jordanian way,” the king quipped. Still, Syrian refugees are starting to spark social tensions in Jordan and the cost of housing them is expected to reach one billion dollars this year. And cash-strapped and resource poor Jordan already has its fill of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees from previous Middle East wars.

Recognizing that leaving the Syria crisis unaddressed only makes matters worse, Abdullah was the first Arab leader to call on Assad to step down. Taking such a bold step publicly while the UN and the United Sates refuse to provide military support to Assad’s opponents has left Abdullah feeling extremely vulnerable, given that his capital is a mere one hundred miles away from Assad’s.

When the two leaders met in Amman last month, President Obama said before King Abdullah, as he has repeatedly over the past year, that “the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would be a game-changer from our perspective because once you let that situation spin out of control it’s very hard to stop, and can have enormous spillover effects across the region.”

Yet the British and French governments told the United Nations last week that they have “credible evidence,” based on soil samples and witnesses, that the Syrian regime has used small amounts of chemical weapons against its own people in recent months. Israel’s senior most military intelligence analyst yesterday said the Syrian government had repeatedly used chemical weapons last month.

In the month since Abdullah and Obama met the game has apparently changed, to use the president’s term. What will the President say about it when he hosts King Abdullah in the Oval Office on Friday?