Obama to shore up ally Jordan on last stop in Mideast

By Matt Spetalnick

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – President Barack Obama flies to Jordan on Friday for talks with King Abdullah, a key U.S. Middle East ally, that are expected to focus on the civil war in neighboring Syria and the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace diplomacy.

Obama will head to Amman after the final day of his first official visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, which will be heavy on symbolism as he tours sites of historic and religious importance to both peoples.

The president’s visit to the desert kingdom is aimed at reassuring Abdullah of Washington’s support at a time when it is flooded with refugees from the violence in Syria, and battling economic difficulties and tensions from the “Arab Spring” upheaval in the region, aides say.

Obama and Abdullah will consult extensively on the spillover of the Syrian conflict to Jordan, where an influx of more than 350,000 refugees has further strained the resources of a country that has almost no oil. Washington has provided some aid to alleviate the humanitarian situation.

Obama backs the Syrian opposition’s effort to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but has limited its support to non-lethal aid to anti-government rebels despite a growing calls from European and Arab allies to take a stronger tack.

The king has taken a mostly cautious line on Syria, calling for Assad to go, but advocating a “political solution” and not arming the Syrian leader’s foes. Jordanian authorities worry that any emergence of Islamist rule in a post-Assad Syria could embolden Islamists who are the main opposition group in Jordan.

Also on the agenda will be the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jordan is one of only two Arab states – Egypt is the other – to have signed peace treaties with Israel, and is seen as a potential player in any future U.S.-led peace push. It also has a majority Palestinian population.

Obama appealed directly on Thursday to the Israeli people to put themselves in the shoes of stateless Palestinians and recognize that Jewish settlement activity in occupied territory hurts prospects for peace.