Barack Obama Plays Tourist-in-Chief in Visit to Ancient City of Petra

Wraps Up Mideast Trip With Trip to Marvel

Pass the Binoculars: President Obama wrapped his Mideast trip by playing tourist for the day, visiting the incredible ancient city of Petra in Jordan.
getty images
Pass the Binoculars: President Obama wrapped his Mideast trip by playing tourist for the day, visiting the incredible ancient city of Petra in Jordan.

By Reuters

Published March 23, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

President Barack Obama marvelled at the sights of Jordan’s ancient city of Petra on Saturday as he wrapped up a four-day Middle East tour by setting aside weighty diplomatic matters and playing tourist for a day.

The visit followed a trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories that was capped by Obama’s brokering of a rapprochement between Israel and Turkey but which offered little more than symbolic gestures toward Middle East peacemaking.

Before heading to Petra, Obama used his stop in Jordan to ratchet up criticism of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but he stopped short of promising military aid to Syrian rebels to help end a two-year-old civil war that has claimed 70,000 lives.

U.S. officials privately voiced satisfaction with the results of Obama’s first foreign trip of his second term, but the president’s aides had set expectations so low that it was not hard to proclaim it a mission accomplished.

Shifting into sightseeing mode on Saturday, Obama flew by helicopter to Petra and took a walking tour of the restored ruins of a city more than 2,000 years old which is half-carved into sandstone cliffs.

Ordinary tourists had been cleared out for the president’s visit, and guards with assault weapons dogged his every step.

“This is pretty spectacular,” the president, wearing sunglasses, khaki trousers and a dark jacket, said as he craned his neck to look up at the Treasury, a towering rose-red façade cut into a mountain. “It’s amazing.”

The U.S. president arrived in Jordan on Friday after an unexpected diplomatic triumph in Israel, where he announced a breakthrough in relations between Israel and Turkey after a telephone conversation between the countries’ prime ministers.

Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu apologised on behalf of his country for the killing of nine Turkish citizens in a 2010 naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, and the two feuding U.S. allies agreed to normalise ties.

The 30-minute call was made in a runway trailer at Tel Aviv airport, where Obama and Netanyahu huddled before the president boarded Air Force One for a flight to Jordan.

The rapprochement could help Washington marshal regional efforts to contain spillover from the Syrian civil war and ease Israel’s diplomatic isolation in the Middle East as it faces challenges posed by Iran’s nuclear programme.

During his visit, Obama appeared to have made some headway in easing Israelis’ suspicions of him, calming their concerns about his commitment to confronting Iran and soothing his relationship with the hawkish Netanyahu.

Obama attempted to show Palestinians he had not forgotten their aspirations for statehood but he left many disappointed that he had backtracked from his previous demands for a halt to Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

The president offered no new peace proposals but he promised his administration would stay engaged while putting the onus on the two sides to set aside mutual distrust and restart long-dormant negotiations - a step the president failed to bring about in his first term.

As Obama’s critics were complaining that his Middle East trip was heavy on symbolism and lacking in substance, the last-minute move toward Israeli-Turkish reconciliation gave his aides a chance to tout a tangible achievement.

On the last leg of his trip, Obama promised further humanitarian aid in talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah, a close ally, as the economically strapped country grapples with a refugee crisis caused by Syria’s civil war.

Obama also used the opportunity to underscore U.S. wariness about arming rebels fighting to overthrow Assad, despite pressure from Republican critics at home and from some European allies to do more.

He warned that a post-Assad Syria could become an “enclave” for Islamist extremism and insisted it was vital to help organise the Syrian opposition to avoid that, but he stopped short of announcing any new concrete steps.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.