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Bipartisan furor over North Korea, Cuba

July 18, 2013 at 10:08 AM

WASHINGTON, July 18 (UPI) -- Bipartisan leaders in the U.S. Senate called on the White House to send a strong message in response to Cuban weapons shipments to North Korea.

Panamanian authorities this week seized a vessel said to be carrying obsolete Cold War-era weapons from Cuba to North Korea hidden in a cargo of sugar. The North Korean government issued a statement from its official Korean Central News Agency calling on authorities to release the seized ship.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on President Obama to refer the issue to the United Nations.

"In addition to possible violations of Panamanian law, the shipment almost certainly violated United Nations Security Council sanctions on shipments of weapons to North Korea," he said in a statement.

The Cuban and North Korean governments are long-time foes of the United States. U.S. officials have urged the Cuban government to free contractor Alan Gross, jailed on allegations of subverting the Cuban regime through his work with Jewish communities. North Korea's nuclear weapons program is viewed as an international threat by the U.S. government and its allies.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican member of the Senate committee from Florida, said Wednesday both countries should be referred to the United Nations as state sponsors of terrorism.

Menendez and Rubio are of Cuban descent.

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