Abdullah and Trump are United Against ISIS, Divided on Refugees
WASHINGTON (CNN) — When King Abdullah II of Jordan was presented with a wave of refugees from Syria, he welcomed more than a million people into his country.
When President Donald Trump was presented the same, he closed the door.
The two world leaders who met Wednesday are united in the fight against ISIS — a fact Trump heralded during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden — but the duo are each other’s antithesis when it comes to responding to the now ever-present issue of Syrian refugees.
The meeting comes as the focus on Syria’s ongoing civil war is at its brightest: The White House, along with activist groups and other foreign leaders, blamed forces tied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday for a chemical attack in a rebel-controlled area of Syria.
On Wednesday, Abdullah downplayed his differences with Trump regarding refugees, largely deflecting a question about Trump’s refugee ban. And Trump pledged to help Jordan with strains caused by the influx of refugees looking to escape Syria.
“We also acknowledged the vital role that Jordan has played in hosting refugees from the conflict in Syria,” Trump said, adding that the United States will contribute more aide to Jordan for refugees.
“This aid will help countries like Jordan host refugees until it is safe for them to return home,” Trump said. “The refugees want to return home.”
Abdullah echoed this sentiment: “Most, if not all, Syrian refugees want to go back to Syria.”
Pictures of children writhing in pain from the attack have plastered TVs around the world, bringing into focus the human impact the ongoing war. White House officials said this week that Middle East peace and the refugee crisis will be among the topics the two world leaders will discuss Wednesday.
Trump said Wednesday that the chemical attack “crossed a lot of lines” for him and changed his “attitude towards Syria and Assad has changed very much.”
The official White House visit is the second time Abdullah and Trump have seen each other this year. The two met briefly in February around an annual Washington prayer breakfast.
Abdullah also met with Vice President Mike Pence in February to discuss the fight against terrorism and the Syrian crisis, according to the White House.
But Wednesday’s put a sharper focus on the differences between the two world leaders, especially in terms of the ongoing refugee issue that has put pressure on Jordan’s economy.
Jordan and the refugees
The Syrian civil war has caused 4.81 million Syrians to flee their country, according to the United Nations, while 6.3 million people have been displaced internally.
Jordan’s response to the crisis was to take in over million refugees, the country’s leaders have said, a decision that dramatically altered the make-up of the oil-less Middle Eastern country that shares a 233-mile border with Syria.
The United Nations has registered close to 700,000 refugees in Jordan alone.
“We really didn’t have much choice,” Abdullah told CBS in 2016. “They were flooding across the border, being shot by the Syrian regime and Jordan has always been a place that opens its arms to refugees from many countries unfortunately.”
The decision has increased Jordan’s population by 20%, Abdullah said, straining the country’s ability provide basic necessities, like water, to the refugees, while at the same time decreasing the services Jordanian citizens have received from their government.
“Jordan is fatigued and has reached its maximum carrying capacity whether in terms of available resources,” Jordanian Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki said Tuesday. “Without the continued support of the international community this will negatively impact our overstretched ability to continue providing necessary services to Syrians.”
Despite the troubles, though, Abdullah’s decision stands in stark contrast with Trump, who — days after assuming office in January — directed his administration to shut the door on Syrian refugees.
“I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. We don’t want them here,” Trump said as he signed the order. “We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”
While that order — and a subsequent order that looked to do something similar — have been blocked by courts, the Trump administration has made clear that Syrian refugees will not be welcome without a pause in the program.
Trump capped his presidential campaign by routinely promising to “suspend” the Syrian refugee program and slammed Hillary Clinton, his 2016 opponent, for advocating the United States increase the number of Syrian refugees they accept.
“Hillary Clinton wants a 550% increase in Syrian refugees pouring into our countries,” Trump said days before the election in Florida. “Her plan would mean generations of terrorism and extremism spreading in your schools and all throughout your communities.”
United against ISIS
One area on which Trump and Abdullah do agree is the fight against ISIS, where both world leaders are supportive of going after the terrorist organization.
Abdullah, a former special operations commander in Jordan, told CNN in 2015 that while ISIS is trying to link itself to Islam, “These people… are on the fringe of Islam.”
And he has cracked down violently on the group. When ISIS captured Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh in 2015 and killed him by putting him inside a cage and setting it on fire with a flamethrower, Abdullah responded by hanging two prisoners, including one that ISIS had previously requested be released.
Jordan has also played a key role in the campaign against ISIS, regularly participating in air attacks against the group and sharing intelligence with the CIA and other American organizations.
Trump campaigned on a platform of tough talk on ISIS, including pledging to “bomb the hell” out of the group.
“I will quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS, will rebuild our military and make it so strong no-one — and I mean, no one — will mess with us,” he said in a radio ad during the campaign.
Trump heralded Abdullah as “a great warrior” who has been key in the fight against ISIS.
And Abdullah said the fight against terror “has no borders, no nationality, no religion.”
“We are very encouraged with the president’s determination to support Arab and Muslim states in their fight against terrorism,” he added.