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WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States and Cuba held migration talks, despite news that Panama had impounded a North Korean freighter carrying Cuban missile equipment.

The State Department said the discussions in Washington, the first such talks in over two years, were being held as scheduled.

“The U.S. delegation highlighted areas of successful cooperation in migration, including advances in aviation safety and visa processing,” it said.

The talks are technical in nature, and include matters such as how visas for immigrants are processed for people from Cuba, the Americas’ only communist-ruled nation.

The United States grants Cubans immigrant visas.

But it also grants every Cuban who reaches U.S. soil permanent residency and the ability to work, something the United States does not do for nationals of any other country.

Cuba is against this, saying it encourages dangerous illegal migration attempts in the shark-infested Florida Straits.

The discovery of Cuban weaponry on a North Korean ship trying to enter the Panama Canal should have prompted the United States to scrap the migration talks, said Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“I urge the State Department to immediately stop this week’s migration discussions until the Cuban regime offers clear and coherent answers about this incident,” said Ros-Lehtinen, a Havana-born Florida representative.

Cuba has said the weapons on board the ship were obsolete missiles and spare parts from the mid-twentieth century which were being sent to North Korea for repairs.

But diplomats said Wednesday that the shipment may have violated tough U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang aimed at curbing its nuclear weapons program.

The United States and Cuba have been at odds for more than a half century and do not maintain full diplomatic ties.

Photo Credit: AFP/Rodrigo Arangua

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