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Obama seeks new aid for Jordan's Syrian refugee crisis

President Obama will ask Congress for an additional $200 million in aid for Jordan as Syrian refugees continue to flood into the country, he announced today in a news conference with Jordan's King Abdullah II.

"The Jordanian people have displayed extraordinary generosity, but the strain of so many refugees is invariably showing," Mr. Obama said from Al Hummar, Abdullah's official offices. "This is a heavy burden, and the international community needs to step up."

Jordan is hosting more refugees from the brutally violent Syrian conflict than any other nation, with approximately 460,000 Syrians now in Jordan, Abdullah said today -- making up approximately 10 percent of the nation's population. Given the "alarming rates" of refugees streaming over the border, Abdullah said, that figure could double by the end of the year, putting considerable strain on Jordan.

Mr. Obama noted that the United States is already the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. The U.S. has already pledged to give $58 million to Jordan as it handles the influx of Syrians, out of a total pledge of $385 million in support for the refugee crisis. Additionally, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided $100 million in direct budget support to the government of Jordan to help it respond flexibly to its economic challenges, including those emanating from the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict in Syria.

Asked today for how long Jordan plans to keep its borders open, Abdullah responded, "How are you going to turn back women, children, and the wounded? This is just something we cannot do. It's not the Jordanian way."

Supporting refugees, he said, will cost Jordan roughly $550 million a year, meaning if the number of refugees doubles as expected, it could cost more than $1 billion.

Mr. Obama said his approach to the conflict has been "to make sure that what we do contributes to bringing an end to the bloodshed as quickly as possible."

"I'm confident Assad will go," he said of Syria's President Bashar al Assad. "It's not a question of if, it's when."

If the aftermath of his departure, Mr. Obama said Syria needs a government "that actually serves the Syrian people... from all walks of life, from all religious affiliations."

The U.S., he said, has "worked diligently in cooperation with the international community to help organize and mobilize a political opposition that is credible."

Mr. Obama said he was "very concerned" about Syria becoming an enclave for extremism.

"Extremists thrive in failed states, they thrive in power vacuums," he said. "That's why I think it's so important for us to work as an international community to help accelerate a political transition that is viable."

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