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Obama back in D.C. after Middle East trip

WASHINGTON, March 23 (UPI) — U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Washington Saturday evening, hours after wrapping up a visit to Jordan with a quick tour of the ancient city of Petra.

Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland just after 8 p.m. EDT and Marine One brought the president back to the White House just after 8:30.

King Abdullah II accompanied U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Judeh to the airport in Amman. The king and president chatted briefly on the tarmac as Obama transferred from the helicopter that took him to Petra to Air Force One.

Obama arrived in Jordan late Friday after three days in Israel, his first visit to the country as president. He was scheduled to fly directly back to Washington from Amman.

While most of his trip involved talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Obama spent several hours Saturday at Jordan’s most popular tourist destination. Petra, a 2,000-year-old city carved from rock, was cleared of other visitors.

Dr. Suleiman A.D. Al Farajat, a tourism professor at the University of Jordan, led Obama on the tour.

His casual tour contrasted with his hectic schedule of the previous days. While most of the time was spent in Israel, where the president talked to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he also traveled to the West Bank to meet with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.

At a joint news conference Friday, Abdullah welcomed the president to Jordan, telling Obama he was looking forward to an “Arab Summer.” The king said Jordan would continue to provide shelter for Syrian refugees and to do whatever it can to facilitate talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Obama pledged the United States would provide another $200 million in aid to help those who have fled the nearly two-year-old conflict.

Abdullah spoke of the strain recent events are putting on Jordan, describing the Zaatari refugee camp as the country’s fifth-largest city.

But he said there is a “window of opportunity” to reshape the Middle East that could close quickly.

“This is the Jordanian moment. What we’re seeing is the third way in the Middle East — we are seeing that the Arab Spring is behind us; we in Jordan are looking now at the Arab Summer for us all, which means that we all have to roll our sleeves,” he said. “It’s going to be a bumpy and difficult road, but I am very encouraged with the process and I am very excited about the future.”

Obama described Jordan as an “invaluable ally” and a “great friend.”

Copyright 2013 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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