President Barack Obama tours the Treasury in the ancient city of Petra, Jordan, Saturday. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
President Barack Obama played tourist on his final day in the Middle East, going on a guided tour of the ancient city of Petra.
With his meetings with Jordan's King Abdullah II wrapped up yesterday, Obama awoke today in Amman with the only scheduled events being a meeting with U.S. embassy staff at his hotel and a visit to the city that was carved into the sheer rock face of mountains by the Nabataeans, a civilization that settled in the area more than 2,000 years ago.
"It's amazing," Obama said as he looked at the cliffs above. "Spectacular."
The Petra sojourn was a few hours of pure tourism on a trip spent mostly in Israel, where Obama discussed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program, the civil war in Syria and the stalled peace talks with Palestinians. Obama also helped broker a call between Netanyahu and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that administration officials said marked a breakthrough in repairing Israel-Turkey relations.
He met with the Jordanian king yesterday and saw him again today before departing Amman for the trip back to Washington and a return to an agenda that includes rewriting U.S. immigration laws and seeking a budget deal with congressional Republicans to address the nation's long term debt. He's scheduled to arrive tonight.
Obama told his aides when the trip was being planned that he wanted to make sure a visit to Petra, Jordan's biggest tourist attraction, was on his agenda.
"The president is well-traveled and respects the history of the places he visits," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser said. "It's important to go beyond bilateral meetings and summits."
Getting to Petra required an hour-long helicopter ride over rolling hills and desert and a short drive by motorcade. Obama was greeted by Jordan's Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Nayef Al Fayez, and his guide, Suleiman A.D. Al Farajat, professor of tourism at the University of Jordan.
The president walked for about a mile, winding through a narrow canyon, called the Siq, with 80-meter cliffs. The path opened onto a plaza that houses the Treasury, a façade carved into the mountain and featured in the film, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."