First batch of chemical weapons leaves Syria

The first batch of chemical weapons has left Syria, the United Nations announced Tuesday.

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The development is welcome news for the Obama administration, which brokered a deal with Russia last year to rid Syria of all its chemical weapons by June 30, following an alleged sarin gas attack in August. Syria missed a Dec. 31 deadline to ship out its most dangerous chemical weapons, but the U.N. said an unspecified “first quantity” of “priority chemical weapons” was loaded onto a Danish commercial vessel in the Syrian port of Lattakia on Tuesday and has now left for international waters.

“This movement initiates the process of transfer of chemical materials from the Syrian Arab Republic to locations outside its territory for destruction,” the head of the joint effort between the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Sigrid Kaag, said in a statement.

The ship will remain at sea “awaiting the arrival of additional priority chemical materials at the port,” she said. It is then expected to set sail for Italy, where the weapons will be transferred onto the U.S. Navy ship MV Cape Ray for destruction. Maritime security is being provided by naval escorts from China, Denmark, Norway and Russia.

Syrian President Bashar Assad agreed to get rid of his chemical weapons arsenal after the Obama administration threatened to bomb the country for violating President Obama's “red line” of using poison gas in the almost 3-year-old civil war. The OPCW said in October that it had verified that Syria had destroyed all its declared equipment and facilities.

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