Obama, Jordan’s King Abdullah Put Syria at Top of Agenda

President Barack Obama said the Syrian regime’s bloody crackdown on dissenters was the most pressing issue he discussed with Jordan’s King Abdullah during an Oval Office meeting.

“Unfortunately we’re continuing to see unacceptable levels of violence inside that country,” Obama said today, thanking Abdullah, a U.S. ally, for being the first Arab leader to publicly call on Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power.

“We will continue to consult very closely with Jordan to create the kind of international pressure and environment that encourages the current Syrian regime to step aside,” he said after the two met at the White House.

The meeting comes as Abdullah is attempting to revive Mideast peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians that have been frozen for more than a year.

“Although this is still in the very early stages we have to keep our fingers crossed and hope that we can bring the Israelis and the Palestinians out of the impasse,” Abdullah said.

More than 5,000 people have died since the Syrian uprising began in March, according to United Nations estimates, in what has become the greatest challenge to Assad’s regime. Security forces killed 30 more people today, according to the Al Arabiya news channel.

Cease-Fire Deal

Al Arabiya also reported that a cease-fire agreement between the Syrian army and rebels has been reached in the town of Zabadani, near the Lebanese border. The report cited an interview with Kamal al-Labwani, an Amman-based member of the Syrian National Council, an umbrella opposition group.

Today’s meeting was Abdullah’s second Oval Office visit since the Arab Spring civilian uprisings began a year ago. He also met at the White House with Obama on May 17, 2011.

At home, the Jordanian king has been grappling with rising economic and political tensions, accusations of government corruption, the prospect of civil war across the Syrian border and “concerns about Jordan’s stability,” David Schenker and David Makovsky, fellows at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a policy institute in Washington, wrote in a Jan. 13 analysis.

Protests Continue

Civilian protests have continued even as Abdullah has sought to quell criticism by dismissing his cabinet, increasing government subsidies through deficit spending and supporting corruption investigations and trials, they said.

Schenker and Makovsky also said they expected Jordan to seek U.S. financial support beyond the current annual level of $360 million in economic assistance and $300 million in military assistance.

“I think his majesty has been ahead of the curve in trying to respond to the legitimate concerns and aspirations both politically and economically of the Jordanian population,” Obama said.

The two leaders also discussed Iraq and Iran, Obama said.

There are “very few countries around the world that are better friends and better partners than the Jordanians,” Obama said.

The Jordanian king said in an interview with the Washington Post yesterday that talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians are in “little baby steps, right at the beginning.” He said that “the intent, I believe, is there from both sides.”

Peace Talk Doubts

A senior Palestinian official today expressed doubt today that peace talks would yield progress.

“Plainly and simply, no,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s policy-making Executive Committee, said today in an interview at a conference in Beirut. She blamed Israel for the stalemate, saying its leaders “are not going to cooperate with the Jordanians.”

Negotiations broke down in September 2010 after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to renew a 10-month freeze on settlement-building and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ruled out negotiations while West Bank construction continues.

Abbas said Jan. 4 that he may take “harsh” action if Israel doesn’t stop settlement construction by Jan. 26, the date set by the so-called Quartet of diplomatic powers for the two sides to submit proposals on security arrangements and a final border between them. The Quartet is made up of the U.S., Russia, European Union and the United Nations.