WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama directed US agencies to deliver non-lethal
aid to Syria on Monday, including equipment that would neutralize chemical
agents such as sarin as the liquids are transferred, destroyed or once again
Under the authority of the Arms Export Control Act, Obama wrote in
a memorandum to the secretary of state that the transfer of such materials “to
prevent the preparation, use, or proliferation of Syria’s chemical weapons is
essential to the national security interests of the United States.”
equipment will be given to “vetted members of the Syrian opposition” and other
international organizations directly involved in facilitating their
“This action will allow the US government to provide or
license, where appropriate, certain non-lethal assistance inside or related to
Syria,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden in a
statement. “This action is part of long-standing and ongoing efforts to provide
lifesaving chemical weapons-related assistance to people in need in
The US did not provide gas masks or other chemical
weapons-related equipment to rebels prior to the massive sarin attack in Ghouta
on August 21, which killed over 1,400 civilians and led Obama to the brink of
military engagement there.
Offensive equipment, in the form of light arms
and munitions, was promised by the Obama administration to the Supreme Military
Council after an initial determination last spring by US intelligence agencies
revealed small-scale chemical weapons use by the regime of Syrian President
Bashar Assad. Those shipments were first shipped last month, officials
“We are receiving now many kinds of support from our Americans
friends. But I can’t talk in media about military support, excuse me please,”
General Salim Idris, commander of the Syrian rebels, told PBS on
Assuring American viewers skeptical of the opposition, Idris
added, “all other jihadist or extremist groups will not have any access to this
kinds of support, and now we don’t share information with them, we don’t support
them, we don’t give them ammunitions and weapons.”
accused Western powers on Tuesday of trying to wreck prospects for a negotiated
settlement to the country’s conflict by supporting rebels with such aid and
imposing preconditions on the peace process, which started in earnest last month
after Russia and the US brokered an agreement to rid Syria of its massive
chemical weapons stockpile.
The comments, highlighting the precariousness
of any international mediation between Syria’s two warring parties, followed a
meeting of foreign ministers from the US, France and Britain a day
They warned there would be consequences if Assad did not hand
over Syria’s chemical weapons.
In the wake of a mass shooting in the US
capital at a navy yard, and on the fifth anniversary of the start of the
financial crisis of 2008, Obama spoke of Syria only briefly on Monday,
underlining that his “number one” priority is and has always been rebuilding the
nation’s economy, even throughout the Syrian crisis.
“We took an
important step in that direction towards moving Syria’s chemical weapons under
international control so that they can be destroyed,” Obama said. “And we’re not
there yet. But if properly implemented, this agreement could end the threat
these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but to the world.”
Moscow, the foreign ministers of Russia and France voiced sharp disagreements
over how to interpret findings released from the United Nations on Monday on the
use of chemical weapons in Ghouta.
“We have very serious grounds to
believe that this was a provocation,” Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov
told reporters, as French envoy Laurent Fabius sat beside him.
look at the amount of sarin gas used, the vectors, the techniques behind such an
attack, as well as other aspects, it seems to leave no doubt that the regime is
behind it,” Fabius said in response.
Human Rights Watch said rocket
trajectories detailed in the UN report suggested they had been fired from a base
belonging to the Republican Guard, run by Assad’s brother Maher.
contributed to this report.