US expels 15 Cuban diplomats from embassy in Washington

PHOTO: The Cuban Flag is raised over the newly re-opened Cuban Embassy for the first time since the United States severed diplomatic relations in 1961 in Washington, July 20, 2015.PlaySamuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
WATCH US expels 15 Cuban diplomats from embassy in Washington

The U.S. is ordering the departure of 15 Cuban diplomats from the country’s embassy in Washington, D.C., after 22 U.S. personnel have experienced severe health problems in Cuba.

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The U.S. is giving Cuba seven days for the diplomats to leave as it continues to draw down its own diplomatic presence in Havana, which could be completed by the end of the week. The U.S. provided Cuba with a specific list of personnel to depart to “ensure there’s an equitable impact on both embassies' operations,” according to a State Department official.

The official asserted the move was designed to hold Cuba responsible for its treaty obligations to protect foreign diplomats on its soil.

“This move does not signal a change of policy or determination of responsibility for the attacks … We are maintaining diplomatic relations with Havana,” the official said, calling on Cuba to “take more action to protect” Americans.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement today that “until the government of Cuba can ensure the safety of our diplomats in Cuba, our embassy will be reduced to emergency personnel to minimize the number of diplomats at risk of exposure to harm.”

The U.S. announced last Friday that it would cut half of its staff based in the embassy in Havana and warned Americans about traveling to Cuba.

More than 20 U.S. personnel in Cuba have suffered from a range of symptoms, including mild traumatic brain injury and hearing loss, since last December. The illnesses are believed to be related to mysterious "sonic harassment" attacks in Cuba.

An investigation into the attacks is ongoing, and U.S. officials said a third party, such as Russia, could be responsible.

The U.S. will also halt all official delegations to Cuba and limit short-term travel to crucial embassy operations or national security purposes.

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