U.S. Pledges $200 Million To Jordan To Aid With Syrian Refugees

President Obama pledged $200 million in additional U.S. aid for Jordan on Friday to help in caring for a flood of refugees from the civil war in neighboring Syria. The pledge came as Obama met with Jordan's King Abdullah II on the next-to-last day of the president's Middle East tour.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

I'm Melissa Block. And first up this hour, President Obama's tour of the Middle East. There are two headlines from that trip today - new aid for people fleeing Syria's civil war; and new diplomatic ties between two of Washington's key allies in the region, Turkey and Israel. First, the aid money. The president met with Jordan's King Abdullah today. He pledged $200 million to Jordan, to help care for the flood of refugees from Syria.

NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Jordan has a long history of harboring refugees from its turbulent neighbors in the Middle East. King Abdullah says his country is not about to turn women and children away. But he is feeling the strain, as hundreds and thousands of Syrians try to escape the violence in their own country.

KING ABDULLAH II: Jordon today is hosting, by far, the largest number of Syrian refugees. The numbers have just exceeded 460,000 Syrians. That is 10 percent of our population. And the alarming figures, if the rates continue as we're seeing today, will probably double by the end of the year.

HORSLEY: Abdullah says it's up to the international community to lend a hand, and President Obama promised the United States will do its part. He says he'll work with Congress to find another $200 million this year, to help Jordan cope with its refugees.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This will mean more humanitarian assistance and basic services; including education for Syrian children so far from home, whose lives have been upended.

HORSLEY: A foreign reporter asked Obama why the world's only superpower hasn't done more to end the violence in Syria. The president says the U.S. is trying, working with international partners to impose sanctions on the Assad regime, and by building up the opposition. But, Obama says, the U.S. is still reluctant to act militarily on its own.

OBAMA: Our experience shows that when we lead but we are also working with others - like the Jordanians, like the Turks, like other interested parties in the region - then the outcomes are better.

HORSLEY: The visit to Jordan is the final leg of the president's Middle East trip, and a chance to reach out to the wider Arab world. He praised Abdullah for Jordan's efforts at political reform, which the king described as a third way between autocratic dictators and violent revolution.

ABDULLAH: We are saying that the Arab Spring is behind us. We in Jordan are looking now at the Arab Summer for us all, which means that we all have to roll our sleeves. It's going to be a bumpy and difficult road; but I'm very encouraged with the process, and I am very excited about the future.

(SOUNDBITE OF CEREMONIAL MUSIC)

HORSLEY: The king's ceremonial welcome for Obama was delayed for over an hour. That was partly because of a dust storm that grounded the president's helicopter, and partly because of a fence-mending phone call he brokered just before leaving Israel. With Obama at his side, Israel's prime minister telephoned the prime minister of Turkey; and apologized for a deadly, 2010 raid on a Turkish vessel that was trying to run Israel's blockade of Gaza.

Obama briefly joined the call, and the two countries agreed to restore normal diplomatic relations.

OBAMA: This is a work in progress. It's just beginning. As I said, there are, obviously, going to still be some significant disagreements between Turkey and Israel.

HORSLEY: But, Obama says, both countries are strong allies of the U.S. And their renewed relationship is one, small victory in the president's larger peace-making agenda for the Middle East.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Amman, Jordan.

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