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Senators push for action on Cuba over North Korean arms ship

A worker inspects the North Korean flagged ship "Chong Chon Gang" docked at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon City July 16, 2013. R
A worker inspects the North Korean flagged ship "Chong Chon Gang" docked at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon City July 16, 2013. R

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senators sought to increase pressure on the Obama administration on Wednesday to respond after a North Korean cargo ship in Panama was found carrying what appeared to be military equipment loaded in Cuba.

Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the administration should reverse a January 2011 decision easing some travel restrictions and remittances sent to Cuba and stop granting visas to Cuban government officials.

Separately, Democrat Robert Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the matter should be submitted to the U.N. Security Council for review.

Both Rubio and Menendez are Cuban-Americans known as tough critics of Cuba's communist government.

Panama stopped the North Korean ship last week and discovered arms and weapons from Cuba under sacks of brown sugar, prompting concerns that Cuba violated the U.N. arms embargo on Pyongyang.

Cuba said they were "obsolete" Soviet-era weapons being sent to North Korea for repair.

"I believe that this revelation, in addition to Cuba's failure to address its abysmal human rights record, should finally prompt the Administration to re-calibrate its misguided and naive Cuba policy," Rubio wrote in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.

The incident has not yet derailed U.S.-Cuban talks on migration, but U.S. officials said Washington would raise the issue of the ship with Cuba very soon.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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