the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Background Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on the President's Bilateral Meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan

10:27 P.M. PST

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Since it’s a late night, and my colleagues have early mornings, we’re going to do some top lines.  This is going to be on background, attributable to a senior administration official.  We’ll take two questions, and then we’ll -- I’ll let them sleep --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So it was a very constructive and cordial, two-hour-and-fifteen-minute, roughly, meeting.  They covered a wide range of topics, including the domestic situation in Jordan and progress in reform.  And the King reiterated his determination to continue to make progress on political and economic reforms, and we committed to collaborate closely as he does so.

We talked about virtually every regional issue that you could envision:  developments in Egypt, Iraq, with respect to the Gulf and, of course, Iran.  We discussed the President’s upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia and themes that may be likely to arise in that context.  We, of course, spent a substantial amount of time on Syria and the situation there, and Jordan’s interest in Syria, on collaboration in Syria, our thoughts on the trajectory and role of various regional actors.  And then they, of course, spoke about the Middle East peace process.  And the President underscored our interest and commitment to trying to reach agreement on a framework.  And the King expressed his strong support for all the efforts that the United States is making, as he did in his public remarks.  He’s obviously been a very important partner in this whole process.

And indeed, correct me if I’m wrong, they ended on Libya -- Libya, about which we all share both a strong interest and concern.  So it was very wide-ranging, very open, very constructive.  And I think certainly the President felt it was a very worthwhile opportunity, particularly to do this in an informal and relaxed setting and to really delve into some of the issues that are at the top of our agenda.  So I’m happy to take a couple of questions.

Q    In his remarks earlier, the President said that he’s looking for additional steps, short-term and intermediate-term to address the situation in Syria.  Did he discuss with the King what potential steps could be?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, obviously in the short-term, as the President mentioned in his remarks, we’re, together, focused on the humanitarian crisis, both as it affects Jordan and other neighboring states directly, but also given that Jordan and the United States are both working together in the Security Council at present and there is an ongoing, pretty intensive negotiation over a potential humanitarian resolution in the Security Council aimed at not only condemning the atrocities, but trying to create a legal predicate for cross-border operations and cross-line operations, which have been impeded substantially.  So I think that was one thrust of our shared effort.

And then, obviously, looking at ways to increase pressure on the Assad regime, to continue to cooperate in support of the moderate opposition, and to examine ways that we and others can more effectively counter the rising extremist threat were all things that they discussed.

Q    Were any conclusions reached on these steps?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think that this was not a meeting in which firm and final decisions were taken.  It was very useful, though, to delve into our respective thinking and to do some strategizing and to lay a foundation for our teams to continue to really push these issues together and come to some additional strategic play.

Q    Do you have a sense that there’s a consensus or momentum or shift building in terms of this intermediate action for additional arming of rebels, or any -- even if there’s no final decisions made, is there -- would you say any kind of consensus building?  Kerry was talking about this idea of talking to allies about what more we can do, and Abdullah is obviously a part of that.  Is the President shifting his thinking more towards additional arming of rebels, more renewed interest in air strikes?  Anything like that that you can talk about?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think there’s been a lot of misplaced speculation.  Obviously we have been ramping up our support to the moderate opposition, and Jordan has its own strong role to play in relationship to the moderate opposition.  And so our collaboration in that regard has been from the outset important and it continues to be in terms of what can be done to strengthen them.

We also, as I mentioned, spent a fair bit of time discussing the implications of aspects of the rising extremist threat and what might be done by various players in the region, as well as players like us from outside the region, to deal with that because this is a shared concern.

And they did discuss a wide range of policy tools and options, but I don’t think -- I’m not going to get into outlining what they are.

Q    Is there still a strong shared view that Assad must go?  Or do you feel like there might be some -- is that still a strongly held --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  It is, yes -- would be our strong view given that not only is he committing heinous crimes against his people and has long since lost his legitimacy, if any, but also because this war is not going to end and the extremist threat is not going to go away as long as he remains in power. 

Q    Thanks.  Just one thing, you mentioned pressuring Assad, and to some extent that kind of means pressuring Russia to make some progress in the Security Council.  What’s the latest thinking on how to approach Russia and how to maybe move something in the Security Council?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, certainly Russia has a critical role to play.  And as long as they remain wedded to the status quo, this is going to be a very difficult problem to resolve.  And so a large part of what we’ve been doing over the past weeks and months -- many months in fact -- is to try to work with and press the Russians to understand that the status quo is not serving their interests either.  They’re much closer to the parts of Syria than we are that are becoming increasingly ungoverned and dangerous.  And Assad’s perpetuation, in our estimation, is an exacerbating factor.  They don’t yet necessarily see it the same way.  And so that remains a key ongoing part of our effort and that of others to try to move the Russians.

Now, you mentioned the Security Council, and they have a pretty sorry record having thrice double-vetoed with the Chinese quite anodyne resolutions.  So I don’t think any of us have any expectation that they are going to turn on a dime, this chemical weapons resolution being the notable exception for obvious reasons.  But we could conceivably reach agreement on a humanitarian resolution.  I would not exclude that possibility.  Certainly from the point of view of the United States and most members of the Security Council, that's got to be a strong resolution to be meaningful.  Strong doesn’t necessarily mean the threat of sanctions or the threat of force, but strong in terms of the obligations and expectations it would impose on the regime to improve humanitarian access.

And whether the Russians are prepared even to contemplate that I think remains an open question.  But they can’t have it both ways.  They can’t say they’re in favor of negotiations in Geneva and a transitional governing body with full executive authority and humanitarian access and have a happy Olympics, and then be part and parcel of supporting this regime as it kills people in the most brutal way.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So on that, I did promise 10 minutes and we’re 10 minutes to the second.  So, thanks, guys. 

 END               10:37 P.M. PST