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Obama tells Jordan’s king he will seek more humanitarian aid for Syria’s refugees

President Barack Obama, right, meets with Jordan's King Abdullah II at The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands, Rancho Mirage, Calif., Friday, Feb. 14, 2014. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

With the violence in Syria growing worse by the day, President Obama said on Friday evening that he was searching for ways to provide more humanitarian support to the country’s citizens and for ways to put more pressure on the regime of Bashar al-Assad to stem the brutal conflict.

“We don’t expect to solve this anytime in the short term,” Obama said at a meeting here with King Abdullah II of Jordan. “So there are going to be some immediate steps we have to take to help the humanitarian situation there. And there will be some intermediate steps that we can take to apply more pressure to the Assad regime. And we’re going to be continuing to work with all the parties concerned to move forward on a diplomatic solution.”

Obama spoke hours after Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the president was soliciting new policy options from his advisers with regard to Syria. Talks being held in Geneva to resolve the conflict have stalled, while there’s growing concern that Syria is not fully following through on its promise to turn over its stockpiles of chemical weapons for destruction.

Neither Obama nor his aides described any new steps that might be taken, but officials warned that the worsening crisis will continue to have negative effects for people inside and outside of Syria.

“Every day that the conflict in Syria goes on brings with it new challenges for the region as a whole,” a senior administration official said on Friday. The official added that as long as the conflict continues, the humanitarian crisis would grow worse, as would “the growing extremism problem, the burdens that the crisis is imposing on neighboring countries.”

The meeting with Abdullah launches a series of high-profile talks with key Middle East leaders in coming weeks. Obama is set to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington early next month before visiting Saudi Arabia a few weeks later.

Jordan, which lines Syria’s southern border, is the country that has perhaps suffered the most as a result of the Syrian crisis, with an influx of more than 600,000 refugees. Responding to the refugee crisis has cost Jordan close to $1 billion in the past year.

In response, Obama also announced on Friday that he would be seeking new financial support for Jordan, a longtime U.S. ally on many of the most divisive issues in the Middle East.

Obama said he would seek $1 billion worth of loan guarantees for Jordan, helping the country borrow in the capital markets. He said he would also seek the renewal of a five-year memorandum of understanding between the United States and the Arab country, which has been worth more than $600 million a year in financial aid and military resources.

The United States provided a similar $1.25 billion guarantee last year, for which the U.S. government set aside $122 million as collateral to cover future potential losses. Jordan is also suffering from the loss of natural gas that had been provided by Egypt.

“It’s a signal to the markets of the strong confidence of the United States in Jordan, of our partnership, and of our intention to be there as a partner for Jordan in the long term,” a second senior administration official said Friday.

Abdullah thanked Obama for the United States’ support and said he was hoping to find an answer to the question of “how do we bring a politically comprehensive solution to the Syrian people.”

At their meeting here, Abdullah and Obama were also set to discuss efforts to assemble a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians and negotiations to stem Iran’s alleged development of a nuclear weapon.

Abdullah spent the week in Washington before coming out West to meet Obama, who said he chose the location here, at the Sunnydale estate established by the Annendale family, to encourage an informal discussion. Obama will spend the rest of the holiday weekend golfing and catching up entertainment, including the political drama “House of Cards.”

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