President Obama on Monday signed an order allowing the U.S. to provide selected Syrian opposition forces and international groups in the country with nonlethal aid to protect against the use of chemical weapons.
“The President signed a Presidential Determination exercising his authority to waive certain restrictions under the Arms Export Control Act,” said National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden in a statement. “This action will allow the U.S. Government to provide or license, where appropriate, certain non-lethal assistance inside or related to Syria.”
The aid includes “personal protective equipment” as well as measures to help healthcare officials “prepare for and respond to any use of chemical weapons” and “chemical weapons-related training” to selected members of the opposition seeking President Bashar Assad’s ouster.
“This action is part of longstanding and ongoing efforts to provide life-saving chemical weapons-related assistance to people in need in Syria,” said Hayden.
The order clarifies that aid will go to "vetted members of the Syrian opposition."
The move comes days after the U.S. and Russia brokered an agreement to secure and disarm Syria’s chemical arsenal.
The White House has charged Assad with using chemical weapons against civilians in his country’s ongoing civil war. Assad and Russia, an ally of Damascus, dispute the charges.
Obama threatened a military strike against Assad as punishment, but delayed those plans to seek a diplomatic solution after finding weak support on Capitol Hill.
Under the agreement agreed to by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Syria has one week to turn document the size of its chemical arsenal and provide a detailed list of production and storage facilities. Damascus must also agree to allow international inspectors on the ground.
The proposal calls for UN inspectors in Syria by November, with plans to remove or destroy Assad’s chemical weapons by mid-2014.
Some GOP lawmakers have expressed skepticism that Syria or Russia will follow through with the plan even with the threat of UN punishment for noncompliance.
The Obama administration has provided assistance to Syrian rebels since the U.S. determined that Assad crossed Obama’s “red line” by using chemical weapons earlier this year.