McDonough: Syria deal 'not falling apart'

Despite growing concerns, the Obama administration's chemical weapons deal with Syria is “not falling apart,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonoughDenis McDonoughWhite House makes new push for young ObamaCare signups Obama: I curse more than I should The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE said Sunday.

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Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime is two months behind schedule and has turned over less than 5 percent of his stockpile, the State Department said last week. The administration and 10 other nations opposed to Assad have placed the blame squarely on his regime and demanded that it step up its efforts.

“It's not falling apart, but we would like to see it proceed much more quickly than it is,” McDonough told CBS's "Face the Nation."

McDonough continued to defend the deal that took military strikes off the table, if Assad abandoned his poison gas. He declined to say what the administration would do if he reneges.

“I'm not going to get into any 'or whats' here,” McDonough said. “But they ought to do exactly what they said they would do.”

McDonough also dismissed concerns Iran is backing away from its commitments under the interim nuclear deal that went into effect on Jan. 20. He chalked up Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's feisty statements that Iran has not agreed to dismantle “any equipment” to political posturing.

“I'm pretty confident that this is not the first negotiation where people have public positions and private positions,” McDonough said. “So, we'll let Foreign Minister Zarif talk about what he wants to talk about publicly. We'll make clear what we expect from him privately in the talks later this month.”

Obama's chief of staff also said he was confident people traveling to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, would be safe.

“We feel good that the Russians are taking serious steps right now,” he said. “We'll continue to track that closely.”

He suggested Russian authorities could share more information about potential terror threats, however.

“We always want more information,” McDonough said. “That's the life blood of how we keep our people safe.”

McDonough declined to make any news about the Keystone pipeline, after the State Department concluded Friday the pipeline wouldn't substantially worsen carbon pollution.

“What the president's role is now, is to protect this process from politics, let the expert agencies and the Cabinet secretaries make their assessments, both on the study that was put on Friday as well as its impact on the national interest,” he said. “So we'll resolve that over the coming period of time.”

He also avoided antagonizing Congress over disagreements on trade and immigration.

McDonough said the president would work with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to find a way forward on pending trade deals with Europe and Pacific Rim countries. Reid said this week he wasn't inclined to bring up a fast-track bill that the administration needs to close negotiations. “Sen. Reid has been a great friend of the president's,” McDonough said. “We'll continue to work on this. His position on trade has been clear from the beginning.”

McDonough also left the door open to working with the GOP on immigration. House Republicans unveiled immigration reform principles this past week that for the first time offer a way for illegal immigrants to stay and work in the country legally, but not necessarily attain citizenship.

“We don't want to have a permanent separation of classes or two permanent different classes of Americans in this country,” he said. “We're just not gonna live with that.”

“This is an important first step,” he said. “We'll see how this plays out. Our job now is to stand back, see how the House Republicans handle this. And I think we see some important progress here.”