clear
Sunday November 19th, 2017 7:04PM
8:34AM ( 10 hours ago ) Weather Alert

AP sources: US cuts embassy staff, urges no travel to Cuba

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is warning Americans against visiting Cuba and ordering more than half of U.S. personnel to leave the island, senior officials said Friday, in a dramatic response to what they described as "specific attacks" on diplomats.

The decision deals a blow to already delicate ties between the U.S. and Cuba, longtime enemies who only recently began putting their hostility behind them. The embassy in Havana will lose roughly 60 percent of its U.S. staff, and will stop processing visas in Cuba indefinitely, the American officials said.

In a new travel warning to be issued Friday, the U.S. will say some of the attacks have occurred in Cuban hotels, and that while American tourists aren't known to have been hurt, they could be exposed if they travel to Cuba. Tourism is a critical component of Cuba's economy that has grown in recent years as the U.S. relaxed restrictions.

For now, the United States is not ordering any Cuban diplomats to leave Washington, another move that the administration had considered, officials said. Several U.S. lawmakers have called on the administration to expel all Cuban diplomats. In May, Washington asked two to leave, but emphasized it was to protest Havana's failure to protect diplomats on its soil, not an accusation of blame.

Almost a year after diplomats began describing unexplained health problems, U.S investigators still don't know what or who is behind the attacks, which have harmed at least 21 diplomats and their families, some with injuries as serious as traumatic brain injury and permanent hearing loss. Although the State Department has called them "incidents" and generally avoided deeming them attacks, officials said Friday the U.S. now has determined there were "specific attacks" on American personnel in Cuba.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision to draw down the embassy overnight while traveling to China, officials said, after considering other options that included a full embassy shutdown. President Donald Trump reviewed the options with Tillerson in a meeting earlier in the week. The officials demanded anonymity because the moves have yet to be announced.

The United States notified Cuba of the moves early Friday via its embassy in Washington. Cuba's embassy had no immediate comment.

Cubans seeking visas to enter the U.S. may be able to apply through embassies in nearby countries, officials said. The U.S. will also stop sending official delegations to Cuba, though diplomatic discussions will continue in Washington.

The moves deliver a significant setback to the delicate reconciliation between the U.S. and Cuba, two countries that endured a half-century estrangement despite their locations only 90 miles apart. In 2015, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro restored diplomatic ties. Embassies re-opened, and travel and commerce restrictions were eased. Trump has reversed some changes, but has broadly left the rapprochement in place.

The Trump administration has pointedly not blamed Cuba for perpetrating the attacks. Officials involved in the deliberations said the administration had weighed the best way to minimize potential risk for Americans in Havana without unnecessarily harming relations between the countries. Rather than describe it as punitive, the administration will emphasize Cuba's responsibility to keep diplomats on its soil safe.

To investigators' dismay, the symptoms in the attacks vary widely from person to person. In addition to hearing loss and concussions, some experienced nausea, headaches and ear-ringing, and the AP has reported some now suffer from problems with concentration and common word recall.

Though officials initially suspected some futuristic "sonic attack," the picture has grown muddier. The FBI and other agencies that searched homes and hotels where incidents occurred found no devices. And clues about the circumstances of the incidents seem to make any explanation scientifically implausible.

Some U.S. diplomats reported hearing various loud noises or feeling vibrations when the incidents occurred, but others heard and felt nothing yet reported symptoms later. In some cases, the effects were narrowly confined, with victims able to walk "in" and "out" of blaring noises audible in only certain rooms or parts of rooms, the AP has reported.

Though the incidents stopped for a time, they recurred as recently as late August. The U.S. has said the tally of Americans affected could grow.

Already, staffing at the embassy in Havana was at lower-than-usual levels due to recent hurricanes that have whipped through Cuba. In early September, the State Department issued an "authorized departure," allowing embassy employees and relatives who wanted to leave voluntarily to depart ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Though Cuba implored the United States not to react hastily, it appeared that last-minute lobbying by Castro's diplomats was unsuccessful. The days leading up to the decision involved a frantic bout of diplomacy that brought about the highest-level diplomatic contacts between the countries since the start of Trump's administration in January.

Last week, the Cuban official who has been the public face of the diplomatic opening with the U.S., Josefina Vidal, came to the State Department for a meeting with American officials in which the U.S. pressed its concerns. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez used his speech to the U.N. General Assembly to insist Cuba had no idea what was harming American diplomats, while discouraging Trump from letting the matter become "politicized."

As concerns grew about a possible embassy shut-down, Cuba requested an urgent meeting Tuesday between Rodriguez and Tillerson in which the Cuban again insisted his government had nothing to do with the incidents. Rodriguez added that his government also would never let another country hostile to the U.S. use Cuban territory to attack Americans.

Citing its own investigation, Cuba's embassy said after the meeting: "There is no evidence so far of the cause or the origin of the health disorders reported by the U.S. diplomats."

___

Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP and Matthew Lee at http://twitter.com/APDiploWriter

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington
© Copyright 2017 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Rhetoric heats up over Catalonia independence vote
Farm trucks and tractors of every size and description are rolling into Barcelona to protect polling stations for Catalonia's independence vote on Sunday, as Catalan and Spanish authorities issued conflicting statements on the vote
9:45AM ( 10 minutes ago )
AP sources: US cuts embassy staff, urges no travel to Cuba
Senior U.S. officials say the United States is pulling roughly 60 percent of its staff out of Cuba and warning American travelers not to visit due to "specific attacks" that have harmed U.S. diplomats
9:44AM ( 11 minutes ago )
The Latest: Iraq PM says flight ban on Kurds not 'siege'
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says the flight ban set to go into effect this evening is not intended to "starve" the Kurdish people
9:35AM ( 21 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Beyonce sings 'Mi Gente' remix in Spanish for relief efforts
Beyonce has released a surprise single on which she sings in Spanish English and French to raise relief money for those affected by hurricanes in the Caribbean and earthquakes in Mexico
8:44AM ( 1 hour ago )
Lawyer: O.J. Simpson to eat steak, get iPhone after release
O.J. Simpson's attorney says he expects the former football star and actor to be released from a Nevada prison "a few days" after Sunday, the first eligible date for Simpson to be paroled under a decision reached by a state panel in July
8:40AM ( 1 hour ago )
Richard Pyle, accomplished AP reporter for 50 years, dies
Associated Press reporter Richard Pyle, whose career spanned a half-century of war, catastrophe and other indelible stories, dies in New York at age 83
8:30AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Trump to promote tax plan in address to manufacturers group
President Donald Trump will promote his plan for a sweeping rewrite of the tax code to an audience eager for the proposed change
6:00AM ( 3 hours ago )
Farmers say Maria wrecked bright spot of Puerto Rico economy
Farmers wonder if Puerto Rico's small but diverse agricultural sector can recover from the sucker punch delivered to one of the island's economic bright spots by Hurricane Maria
5:59AM ( 3 hours ago )
Protesters at Harvard greet DeVos speech on school choice
Protesters at Harvard greet Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's speech on school choice
3:56AM ( 6 hours ago )
AP Online National News
Rhetoric heats up over Catalonia independence vote
Farm trucks and tractors of every size and description are rolling into Barcelona to protect polling stations for Catalonia's independence vote on Sunday, as Catalan and Spanish authorities issued conflicting statements on the vote
9:45AM ( 10 minutes ago )
The Latest: Iraq PM says flight ban on Kurds not 'siege'
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says the flight ban set to go into effect this evening is not intended to "starve" the Kurdish people
9:35AM ( 21 minutes ago )
Nobel Peace Prize: The winners that soared and sank
Nobel Peace Prize: The winners that soared and sank
9:34AM ( 22 minutes ago )
Russia's Navalny, associates detained ahead of rally
Police have taken Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny into custody in Moscow and detained his associates in a city where he was heading for a rally
9:32AM ( 24 minutes ago )
Major League Baseball to top 40,000 strikeouts for 1st time
Major League Baseball is set to smash through a previously untouched barrier Sunday: Some batter likely will walk back to his dugout after becoming the 40,000th strikeout of the season
9:32AM ( 24 minutes ago )