Obama Sounds Cautious Note About Pending Syrian Cease-Fire

WASHINGTON (AP) -
President Barack Obama talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington,Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington,Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Barack Obama sounded a cautious note Wednesday about steps the U.S. and Russia are taking to put in place a cease-fire to help end the Syrian civil war, even as he also cited progress in pushing the Islamic State group out of territory in Iraq and Syria.

Obama’s comments came after meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the White House, where the two leaders said that pursuing the political process designed to end the civil war and taking the fight to IS are their top priorities in Syria. The cease-fire is set to take effect Saturday, but does not cover IS.

“We are very cautious about raising expectations on this,” Obama said. “The situation on the ground is difficult.”

Jordan is a key partner with the U.S. in the campaign to defeat IS and the effort to resolve the 5-year-old war. Obama described Jordan as a country that “punches above its weight when it comes to the fight against ISIL,” an alternate name for Islamic State.

Obama said that if the cease-fire reduces the violence that has been wracking Syria, then it will provide the basis for a longer-term cease-fire. He also said that halting hostilities will allow the U.S. and its partners, including Russia, to focus on IS, “something that right now they are not doing and are not focused on.”

After the meeting, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he expects there “will be some violations” of the cease-fire.

“It will be unclear after a few days, or maybe even after a few weeks, about whether or not this understanding will stick,” Earnest said.

Obama also said the leaders talked about how to help Syrian refugees. Jordan houses about 635,000 Syrians registered by the U.N. refugee agency, out of about 4.7 million Syrians who have fled their homeland since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011. Most of the refugees live in regional host countries, though tens of thousands have moved on to Europe because living conditions were becoming increasingly difficult in those host countries, in part because of shortfalls in international aid.