News / Middle East

Syria Chemical Weapons Figure in Obama-Jordan Talks

Jordan's King Abdullah speaks during a joint news conference with U.S. President Barack Obama at Al-Hummar Palace in Amman, March 22, 2013. Jordan's King Abdullah speaks during a joint news conference with U.S. President Barack Obama at Al-Hummar Palace in Amman, March 22, 2013.
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Jordan's King Abdullah speaks during a joint news conference with U.S. President Barack Obama at Al-Hummar Palace in Amman, March 22, 2013.
Jordan's King Abdullah speaks during a joint news conference with U.S. President Barack Obama at Al-Hummar Palace in Amman, March 22, 2013.
The U.S. revelation that chemical weapons likely have been used in Syria came on the eve of President Barack Obama's talks Friday with King Abdullah of Jordan. Syria is now likely to figure even higher in the Oval Office discussions.

King Abdullah's visit comes just over a month after he and President Barack Obama met in Amman during the president's Middle East trip.

Syria was high on the agenda at the time along with the burdens on Jordan of hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria.

In a joint news conference, King Abdullah expressed concerns about the impact of the Syrian conflict on the entire region.

"We are extremely concerned about the risks of prolonged sectarian conflict that if it continues as we are seeing leads to the fragmentation of Syria which obviously will have disastrous consequences on the region for generations to come," Abdullah said.

The revelation by the Obama administration that U.S. intelligence officials assess with "varying degrees of confidence" that chemical weapons have been used in Syria further elevates the issue for Friday's talks.

Last March in Amman, President Obama made clear any use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a "red line" for him.

"The use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would be a game changer from our perspective, because once you let that situation spin out of control, it is very hard to stop and can have enormous spillover effects across the region," Obama said.

Jordan is hosting training for opposition fighters seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, drawing warnings from the government in Damascus.

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says Jordan is in a delicate position.

"Jordan certainly needs U.S. help in the financial area, it needs U.S. trainers.  It needs to prepare for the possibility that if Syria is confirmed as using chemical weapons or if there are more civilian casualties, it would be Jordan that would have to, along potentially with Turkey, be a critical source of basing and support, for any kind of outside intervention to try to bring an end to the civil war," Cordesman said.

Cordesman says the role of Jordan, and Turkey, would be "critical" in the event of any decision by the United States and key partner nations to create any security zone inside Syria.

Jordan's security, he says, is directly related to the outcome of the Syrian civil war.

"The creation of a division between Sunni and Shi'ite that spills over to Iraq, another country on Jordan's border creates far more serious security problems for Jordan as does the rising role of volunteers and Islamist extremist groups, some of which are tied to al-Qaida, which has carried out attacks in Jordan in the past," Cordesman said.

On the eve of Friday's White House talks, Marius Deeb, lecturer on the Middle East with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, painted this picture of the situation playing out on the ground in Syria.

"They have to think of the future, what is going to happen, when President Assad will leave Damascus.  There is no way that he could stay in power.  He cannot really re-establish his authority over Syrian territory," Deeb said.  

On chemical weapons in Syria, a White House official said the United States and partner countries will continue to assess evidence to establish a "clear, corroborative and credible basis" for decisions to come.

The official said the chaotic situation in Syria will not prevent the U.S., with the help of other countries and Syria's opposition, from establishing the facts.

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