United States will expel 15 Cuban diplomats, escalating tensions over mystery illnesses

The U.S. has ordered the expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats from their embassy in Washington following mysterious attacks on American officials in Havana.

Tillerson said the U.S.is maintaining diplomatic relations and will cooperate with Cuba while the investigation continues.

The number of American diplomats confirmed to have suffered symptoms has increased to 22, the State Department official said. It comes as the USA seeks to protect its own diplomats from unexplained attacks that have harmed at least 21 Americans in Havana with ailments that affected their hearing, cognition, balance, and vision.

The expulsions are the latest development in a mysterious series of incidents that have affected USA diplomats in Cuba, including hearing loss and minor brain damage.

Mr Tillerson said the United States is maintaining diplomatic relations and will co-operate with Cuba while the investigation continues.

U.S. relations with Havana were only fully restored in 2015 - after a half-century Cold War break - and have deteriorated since President Donald Trump took office in January.

A State Department official said the number of expulsions was selected to make sure the U.S. and Cuban embassies would have "equitable staffing levels" while investigations continued into the unexplained "health attacks".

Delivering a one-two punch to U.S. -Cuba relations, the U.S. last week also delivered an ominous warning to Americans to stay away from Cuba, a move that could have profound implications for the island's travel industry.

"By these politically motivated and thoughtless actions, the United States government is responsible for the current and possibly future deterioration of bilateral relations", he said. "What it does is require the Cuban government to be able to fulfill their obligations with the safety and well being and protection of foreign diplomats in their country".

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The U.S. "needs full assurances from the Cuban government that these attacks will not continue", the official said.

The move followed an announcement on Friday that the USA was sharply reducing its diplomatic presence in Cuba as it warned US citizens not to visit because of attacks that caused hearing loss, dizziness and fatigue in USA embassy personnel.

The U.S. announced Tuesday that it had given the Cuban government a list of 15 names of people who had to leave Washington within one week, the latest move in the fallout of the unusual attacks and one which was criticized by the Cuban government.

United States transnational news agency Association Press gave impetus yesterday to Washington's assertion that USA diplomats in Havana have suffered mysterious sensory attacks by alleging that intelligence agents have been especially targeted.

However, in a statement, Secretary Tillerson was clear that the US was not accusing Cuba of being responsible for the attacks and that the two countries were cooperating as the USA investigates.

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 US diplomats leaving Cuba are expected to be out by the end of the week, and the State Department has given the Cubans a list of which diplomats they wanted expelled.

In 2015, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro restored diplomatic ties, ordered embassies re-opened and eased travel and commerce restrictions.

Rather, a State Department official said on a briefing call Tuesday morning, the move is meant to underscore the responsibility of the Cuban government for the safety and security of American diplomats working there.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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