Obama administration cheers progress on Syria weapons

The Obama administration on Tuesday cheered news that the first batch of chemical weapons had left Syria. 

The United Nations announcement is a win for the administration, which negotiated the elimination of Bashar Assad's arsenal with Russia after threatening military action last year. Syria's most dangerous weapons were supposed to have left the country by Dec. 31, but the war-wracked country missed that deadline.

“We, of course, welcome the announcement ... that an initial amount of priority chemical materials were removed from Syria today,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. “This represents continued progress toward the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons program. Much more needs to be done.”

“As the international community has made clear, it is the Assad regime's responsibility to transport its chemicals to Latakia safely to facilitate their removal. We expect them to meet their obligations to do so.”

She said the administration has “no reason to believe that the regime has gone back on any aspect of their promise.”

Republicans who have called for the U.S. to play a greater role in combating Assad remained critical.

“I'm not too astonished that that should finally happen, but the fact is that there's also a planeload of weapons landing in Damascus airport from Moscow today, and they are killing and slaughtering Syrians indiscriminately,” Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTo woo black voters in Georgia, Dems need to change their course of action Senate panel again looks to force Trump’s hand on cyber warfare strategy Senate panel advances 6B defense policy bill MORE (R-Ariz.) told The Hill. “The latest is these cluster bombs that they're dropping on the Syrian people. It is bizarre and Orwellian and shameful.”

Fellow Senate Foreign Relations panel member Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTrump appears to confirm deal on Chinese firm ZTE Hillicon Valley: Experts worry North Korea will retaliate with hacks over summit | FBI works to disrupt Russian botnet | Trump officials look to quell anger over ZTE | Obama makes case for tighter regs on tech Putting pressure on Trump, House passes bill barring government from doing business with ZTE MORE (R-Fla.), a potential 2016 presidential candidate, said the situation in Iraq is a direct consequence of the administration's reluctance to get more involved in the almost three-year-old civil war in Syria. 

“Al Qaeda-linked groups are using Syria as a staging ground to carry out operations in Iraq,” Rubio told The Hill. “That's one of the reasons why we needed to care about what was happening in Syria, and unfortunately the administration didn't have, in my opinion, a well thought-out approach to it.”

Please send tips and comments to Julian Pecquet: jpecquet@thehill.com

Follow us on Twitter: @TheHillGlobal and @JPecquetTheHill