Washington has given 15 Cuban diplomats seven days to leave the US, citing the draw-down of US diplomatic presence in Havana and accusing Cuba of failing to protect US diplomats reportedly affected by mysterious "health attacks."
According to news reports, on Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the expulsion of Cuban diplomats is intended to "ensure equity" between Washington and Havana.
Mr. Tillerson maintained that move is "due to Cuba's failure to take appropriate steps to protect our diplomats."
Last week, the State Department announced it would withdraw half the staff at the US embassy in Cuba, citing mysterious "health attacks" that have affected at least 22 Americans.
The decision to withdraw US personnel from Cuba was necessary to "minimize the number of diplomats at risk of exposure to harm," the Secretary of State added on Tuesday.
At the same time, he said the US is maintaining diplomatic relations with Cuba and will cooperate with the country while the investigation into the unexplained "health attacks" continues.
However, for his part, Cuba's Foreign Minister said that the US has not provided sufficient information for the investigation into the alleged attacks.
Twenty-two US diplomats and their families have experienced unexplained health problems over the past year, some as traumatic as brain injury and hearing loss. Investigators have been unable to determine who or what is the cause.
Officials recently announced that the FBI agents had visited the homes of diplomats in Cuba but had not been able to detect anything. Security footage of the homes showed nothing suspicious. Officials suspected some kind of futuristic “sonic attack.” Some of the diplomats reported hearing loud noises or feeling vibrations when the incidents occurred but others heard and experienced nothing. Reportedly, the FBI has been unable to duplicate the symptoms in a lab.
Cuban officials have denied any involvement in the attacks alleged by the State Department.
Recnetly Cubas Foreign Ministry issued a statement that read in part,"The Cuban government has never perpetrated nor will it ever perpetrate attacks of any kind against diplomats."
"The Cuban government has never permitted nor will it ever permit the use of its territory by third parties for this purpose. There is no evidence so far of the cause or the origin of the health disorders reported by the US diplomats."
According to a number of sources, the US will stop issuing visas in Cuba indefinitely and is halting official travel due to the attacks. Cubans seeking visas to enter the US may be able to apply through embassies in nearby countries.
In related news, it was reported that Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida commended the State Department for undertaking the expulsion of the Cuban diplomats, whom he referred to as "operatives".
Meanwhile, some US diplomats in Cuba said they were disappointed to be ordered to leave.
"I am an optimist and hope we will return one day, before too long," the embassy's top official, career diplomat Scott Hamilton, wrote on Facebook.
"This decision appears to be purely political, driven by the desire of a handful of individuals in Congress to halt progress between our two countries," weighed in James Williams, president of lobbying group Engage Cuba, according to Reuters.
The US and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations in 2015, at the initiative of President Barack Obama. Washington and Havana had been estranged since 1961, when President John F. Kennedy cut ties with Cuba and imposed an embargo on the island.
Last year, President Obama traveled to Cuba, looking to warm the long-frozen relations with the Communist-run country.