WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama hailed the completion Monday of the destruction of Syria's chemical weapon stockpile, but said Washington would seek to ensure that Damascus fulfills all its commitments.
"Today we mark an important achievement in our ongoing effort to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction by eliminating Syria's declared chemical weapons stockpile," Obama said in a statement.
He said the destruction, carried out aboard a US Navy ship on the Mediterranean Sea, sent "a clear message that the use of these abhorrent weapons has consequences and will not be tolerated by the international community."
After a global outcry over deadly chemical attacks in a Damascus suburb last year that may have killed as many as 1,400 people, President Bashar al-Assad's regime agreed to an international plan to destroy its stockpile.
"Going forward, we will watch closely to see that Syria fulfills its commitment to destroy its remaining declared chemical weapons production facilities," Obama said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that "much more work must be done" as he marked what he said was "a milestone in our unrelenting work to ensure the end of the Assad regime's deadly chemical arsenal."
"The United States will continue to provide political, financial and other support to the moderate opposition because we are committed to help those who seek the right of all Syrians to choose a future of peace and oppose the violent extremists who exploit the chaos and ruin that Assad has brought to Syria," Kerry said in a statement.
With no country ready to accept shipments of Syria's most lethal chemical agents, the United States proposed destroying the chemicals at sea using two "portable" hydrolysis units.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called the captain of the MV Cape Ray earlier in the day to congratulate the crew on "their unprecedented work of neutralizing, at sea, the most dangerous chemicals in Syria's declared stockpile," the Pentagon said.
The process called for mixing the chemicals in sealed containers with thousands of gallons of hot water along with sodium hydroxide or other "reagents" that help break down their toxicity.
Officials have said none of the chemicals or waste will be dumped at sea.