Obama turns attention to California drought

Associated Press
President Barack Obama waves to reporters as he walks on the South Lawn aof the White House in Washington, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, before boarding the Marine One helicopter to travel to the Democratic House members retreat in Cambridge, Md. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama planned to address California's severe drought Friday on a visit to the water-starved state, and conduct an unusual West Coast meeting with Jordan's king to discuss stalled Middle East peacemaking and Syria's civil war.

Obama was traveling Friday to the Fresno area of central California, in the San Joaquin Valley, to draw attention to the state's worst drought in more than 100 years.

Later Friday, Obama was meeting Jordan's King Abdullah II at Southern California's sprawling Sunnylands estate for talks covering the Mideast peace process, Syria and other issues. It's unusual for Obama to host world leaders outside of the White House, though he did hold a two-day summit at Sunnylands last year with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Obama's meetings with Abdullah will be much shorter — just a brief meeting Friday night, followed by a working dinner. The White House wouldn't say why the meeting was taking place in California, particularly given that Abdullah spent much of the past week in Washington and met with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, and others.

"The king is also going out to California. The president and the king can meet there and will meet there as part of this trip," said White House press secretary Jay Carney.

Jordan has managed to largely escape the Arab Spring convulsions that have enveloped much of the Middle East. Already home to the largest Palestinian population outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the kingdom's ethnic schism is only complicated by the recent years' arrival of more than half a million refugees from Syria due to that country's civil war. Another half million Iraqis also live in Jordan since dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

The president was announcing more than $160 million in federal financial aid, including $100 million in the farm bill he signed into law last week for programs that cover the loss of livestock. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the programs had lapsed but were renewed under the farm bill. He said Obama has ordered that they be up and running in 60 days.

The overall package includes smaller amounts for the most extreme drought areas, and to help food banks that serve families affected by the water shortage.

Obama also will call on federal facilities in California to immediately limit water consumption.

Before the announcement, he planned to visit a stricken farm and discuss the drought with farmers and others who have been affected.

Obama was expected to spend the annual Presidents Day holiday weekend at Sunnylands, which has a golf course that he is familiar with. Obama treated himself to a golf weekend at the estate last June after holding a two-day summit there with Xi.

California's drought follows a year of the lowest rainfall on record and has brought to a head political warfare over the state's water resources that feed major cities, the country's richest agricultural region and waterways that provide habitat for endangered species of fish.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency on Jan. 17. Obama telephoned him several days later for an update on the situation.

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Associated Press writer Scott Smith in Fresno, California, contributed to this report.

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