AMMAN, Jordan — Standing less than 100 miles from the Syrian border, President Obama on Friday defended his administration’s reluctance to use U.S. military force to quell the civil war in that country, saying experience has shown that slow coalition-building and outside pressure will yield better results.
“When we are working with the Syrians themselves, so this is not externally imposed but rather something that is linked directly with the aspirations and hopes of the people inside of Syria, it will work better,” Obama said during a visit to neighboring Jordan. “We are going to continue to use every lever and every bit of influence that we have to affect the situation inside of Syria.”
Obama made the remarks at a news conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah II during which both leaders were pressed on their plans for addressing the continuing violence in Syria and President Bashar Assad’s refusal to give up power.
Obama said the U.S. was closely monitoring whether Assad had moved chemical weapons — repeating that such a move would be a “game-changer” — and he acknowledge he was concerned the instability was fostering extremism.
“So this is part of the reason why, for the American people, we’ve got to recognize we have a stake,” Obama said. “It’s tragic. It’s heartbreaking. And the sight of children and women being slaughtered that we’ve seen so much I think has to compel all of us to say, ‘What more can we do?’ And that’s a question that I’m asking as president every single day.”
Obama said the U.S. would deliver $200 million more in humanitarian aid to help Jordan support the Syrian refugees crossing its border. Trying to drive home the problem for an American audience, the king said his country had taken in about 460,000 Syrian refugees, roughly equal to 10% of Jordan’s population.
“That’s the equivalent of 30-million refugees crossing into the United States with the possibility of that going up to 60 million by the end of the year, relative, obviously, to our populations,” he said.
Obama’s brief visit with the king was the capstone on his tour this week of the Middle East, which included his first visit to Israel as president. Obama used the much-anticipated trip to try to recalibrate his relationship with Israeli leaders and urge the Israeli public to support new momentum for peace talks. Obama noted that Jordan would be a key player in those talks.
Abdullah called Obama’s visit part of the “homework” stage of restarting the peace process. Obama too said he believed his trip was a early step and made no process for new talks.
Parsons reported from Amman, Jordan and Hennessey from Washington.