Obama urged to nix Cuba talks after North Korean boat stopped

The Obama administration should cancel talks scheduled for this week with Cuba following the stopping of a North Korean ship believed to be carrying "sophisticated missile equipment" from Cuba, said Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). 

The North Korean-flagged Chong Chon Gang was stopped on its way to the Panama Canal as it returned home following a stop in Cuba, according to Panamanian authorities. It appeared to be carrying “sophisticated missile equipment,” President Ricardo Martinelli told local radio.

“This incident should serve as a wakeup call to the administration, which over the past few months has been leading an apparent effort to normalize relations with Cuba, that it cannot continue to engage the Castro regime,” said the Cuban-American Ros-Lehtinen in a statement. “I call on the Department of State to immediately cease its migration talks this week with the Cuban regime until it provides clear and coherent answers regarding this incident.”

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The United States and Cuba are scheduled to hold bilateral talks on migration issues on Wednesday, The Associated Press reported last month. The two countries are also in talks on resuming direct U.S. mail service to the island. 

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the allegations would be looked at by the United Nations before deciding whether to slap sanctions on Cuba and North Korea. The UN Security Council has voted several times to ban weapons exports to North Korea. 

"Any country that would be exporting arms or arms-related material would be in violation of the sanctions," he said. "I don't want to get ahead of where we are, as clearly there has to be a report to the U.N. sanctions committee and the way forward here.

Ros-Lehtinen also called on the administration to re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism after the seizure. The State Department dropped the reclusive country from its list in 2008 under President George W. Bush.

“This revelation confirms once again that Pyongyang must be re-designated on the State Sponsor of Terrorism (SST) list,” she said, “as it continues to cooperate with the Cuban regime, a designated SST country, in order to undermine U.S. interests.”

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