President Barack Obama said on Thursday he was looking to increase international pressure on Syria as the Arab League prepares to assess its effort to end 10 months of bloodshed.
Speaking after he met Jordan’s King Abdullah, Obama also warmly thanked Jordan for hosting three rounds of Israeli-Palestinian talks. The king said he was keeping his fingers crossed that the two sides can be coaxed out of their “impasse,” according to Reuters.
While they discussed issues including Iraq and Iran, Obama suggested a major focus was Syria, where U.N. officials say more than 5,000 people have been killed in a crackdown on anti-government protests. The Syrian government says 2,000 members of its security forces have died.
The Arab League must decide this week whether to withdraw its 165 monitors or keep them in Syria, even though they are expected to report that Damascus has not fully implemented a peace plan agreed on Nov. 2.
Arab foreign ministers are set to discuss the team’s future on Jan. 22.
“We continue to see unacceptable levels of violence inside that country,” Obama said.
“We will continue to consult very closely with Jordan to create the kind of international pressure and environment that encourage the current Syrian regime to step aside so that a more democratic process and transition can take place inside of Syria.”
Obama also praised the king for joining international calls for Assad to go in November and for taking part in Arab League efforts to mitigate the crisis.
King Abdullah reacted to protests in Jordan at the height of regional Arab Spring protests by sacking his cabinet, reinstating some subsidies and seeking to speed up political reforms.
“His Majesty was the first Arab leader to publicly call on President Assad to step down, in the face of the terrible brutality we've been seeing inside of Syria,” Obama said, according to AFP.
“I want to thank him for his willingness to stand up.”
Western diplomats have suggested they hope the Arab League may tighten economic sanctions, a way to increase pressure on Assad without a military intervention for which no nations seem to have any appetite.
It is unclear whether the Arab League will continue its monitoring mission, which Western diplomats privately regard as a failure that has been unable to stop the violence chiefly because of Syrian government intransigence.
Separately, Obama praised Abdullah for holding three rounds of exploratory talks among Israeli and Palestinian negotiators this year in an effort to draw the two sides into genuine peace negotiations.
“The Jordanians have taken great leadership on this issue and we very much appreciate their direction,” Obama said, according to Reuters.
With the political turmoil in Egypt, the only other Arab nation to have signed a peace agreement with Israel, Jordan appears to have filled a vacuum in trying to promote peace.
“Although this is still in the very early stages, we have to keep our fingers crossed and hope that we can bring the Israelis and Palestinians out of the impasse that they are facing,” Abdullah said.
The exploratory discussions began on Jan. 3 and followed a long break in negotiations after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspended talks 15 months ago over Israel's expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday the two sides were at odds over a three-month deadline set by the international Middle East Quartet for progress on territorial and security issues.
He said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat wanted to abandon talks due to take place on Jan. 26, according to AFP.
Both parties have said the Amman meetings did not constitute a return to direct talks, although they did exchange position papers when they first met on Jan. 3.