U.S. says seized ship is about North Korea and sanctions, not Cuba

The North Korean-flagged ship recently seized by officials in the Panama Canal is not a U.S.-Cuba issue but a U.N.-North Korea issue, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday.

Marie Harf, the deputy spokesperson for the State Department, made the remarks on Thursday during her daily press briefing. Harf responded to questions about the ship, which was purportedly on its way to Cuba. Harf said the issue was more about the U.N. and its sanctions on North Korea than it was about Cuba.

"I would underscore that the issue of the ship isn't a U.S.-Cuba issue - it's really an issue that we're focused on in terms of the U.N. and the sanctions that we have through the U.N. on North Korea," Harf said. "We said we would raise it with them at some point. I don't have any update for you on that."

Harf said the U.S. is willing to send assistance to Panama to help inspect weapons or any other materials offloaded from the ship. If North Korea was transporting weapons on the boat, it might be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Harf refused to speculate about whether the State Department would support tightened sanctions against Cuba as a result of the incident.

"In terms of the sanctions, there is a process in place," Harf said. "We are supportive of that process because the bottom line remains that any alleged violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and sanctions on North Korea is incredibly concerning to us, as we've said many times. And so we're just going to let that process play out. I don't want to speculate on how that might end or what actions might come out of that."