United States to expel majority of Cuban embassy staff

Oct 04, 2017, 00:13
United States to expel majority of Cuban embassy staff

The Trump administration has ordered the expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats from Washington over the next week in response to unexplained "attacks" that have sickened 22 American officials posted in Havana.

U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson had earlier said that kicking out 15 Cuban diplomats would "ensure equity".

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson added that the expulsions were happening "due to Cuba's failure to take appropriate steps to protect our diplomats in accordance with its obligations under the Vienna Convention". "This is to ensure that there is an equitable impact to our embassies' ability to operate, and to underscore to the Cubans that they must take more action to protect our people on the ground", the official said.

The attacks, which U.S. officials initially suggested could have been carried out with some sort of covert acoustic device, have affected at least 22 USA embassy staff in Havana over the past few months.

There was no immediate reaction from Cuba's Embassy in Washington late Monday after word emerged that the United States planned to ask Cuban diplomats to leave. An official said that the new victim had experienced health problems in January but only now has a determination been made that they were connected to the other health incidents.

Neither U.S. nor Cuban officials have been able to explain the cause of the illnesses, and the FBI and Cuban law enforcement agencies are cooperating in an investigation.

United States officials said they are convinced someone has been targeting the diplomats and they are investigating whether some type of sonic weapon could have been used in the attacks.

Washington has given Cuba a list of 15 of its diplomats who must leave the USA within seven days although they are not being declared "persona non grata".

The US also said that the move was created to achieve parity in each country's embassy functions, after Washington announced the withdrawal on Friday of non-emergency personnel - more than half its diplomats in Havana, as well as all family members.

The US decision to expel a large portion of Cuban staff at the embassy was communicated to Cuban ambassador Jose Ramon Cabanas on Tuesday, and the diplomats were given seven days to leave, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The ministry said USA "specialised agencies" visited Havana three times, in June, August and September. The departing Americans are expected to have all left Cuba by week's end, officials said.

Still, the administration has pointedly not blamed Cuba for perpetrating the attacks, and officials have spent weeks weighing how to minimize the risk for Americans in Cuba without unnecessarily harming relations or falling into an adversary's trap.

The Americans will not be allowed to return to Cuba until the government in Havana can ensure their well-being, said the US official assigned to brief reporters on the expulsion.

The United States is kicking out 15 of Cuba's diplomats in a row over alleged attacks on U.S. staff in Havana.

Last Friday, the State Department issued a travel warning advising all American visitors to stay away because their safety could not be guaranteed, a measure that is certain to harm Cuban tourism, the most dynamic segment of the economy.

Expelling Cuban diplomats does not reflect an assignment of blame, a senior State Department official told reporters ahead of the announcement.

Ties between the U.S. and Cuba were restored under President Barack Obama in 2014 after more than half a century.

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