By Justin Sink - 03/22/13 06:30 PM EDT
President Obama said Friday he would work with Congress to provide Jordan an additional $200 million in aid this year, as the country struggles to cope with nearly half a million refugees who have fled the civil war in neighboring Syria.
"The Jordanian people have displayed enormous generosity, but the strains of so many refugees inevitably are showing … the international community needs to step up to make sure they help shoulder this burden," Obama said.
Abdullah noted the influx of refugees represented the equivalent of 10 percent of Jordan's population, and that the sprawling refugee camp across the Syrian border was now the fifth largest city in the country.
He also predicted the number of refugees could double within the year, at a cost of $1.1 billion — a serious imposition on a country that economists say could have an unemployment rate of almost 30 percent. Nevertheless, Abdullah pledged to continue accepting refugees.
"How are you going to turn back women, children or the wounded? This is just something we can’t do … that is a challenge that we just can't turn our backs on," he said.
The Jordanian monarch also indicated he remained open to offering asylum to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, conditioned on a quick de-escalation of violence in the country.
Obama, for his part, said that the United States was doing "everything we can to bring an end to the bloodshed" and reiterated his instance that Assad step down.
"I'm confident Assad will go. It's not a question of if, it's when. So what we have to spend a lot of time thinking about is the aftermath of that," Obama said.
The president also warned that there was potential that a post-Assad Syria could become a breeding ground for other extremist groups, saying a chief challenge of the ongoing conflict was developing a stable government for the country post-Assad.
"I am very concerned about Syria becoming an enclave for extremism, because extremists thrive in crisis. They thrive in failed states. They thrive in chaos," Obama said.
Asked why the United States had not already intervened militarily or armed rebels on the ground, Obama said he was wary of interfering in a way that could delegitimize the rebels within the country or have unintended security consequences.
But he also reiterated it would be a "game changer" if it was proved true that the Assad regime had employed chemical weapons.
Abdullah said Jordan would continue "within our means" to provide assistance.
"We are all horrified by the loss of life and the brutality of the conflict. We are extremely concerned about the risk of prolonged sectarian conflict … It is important to have immediate need for an inclusive political transition," the monarch said.