USA expels 15 Cuban diplomats

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The US has ordered 15 Cuban embassy officials to leave the country as result of a string of mysterious health incidents affecting 22 of its diplomats in Havana, which Washington says were the result of deliberate attacks. "We are maintaining diplomatic relations with Havana.", the official said.

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".

The 15 Cuban diplomats selected by the U.S. will have a week to leave, a State Department official said.

Last week, State Department officials said Cuba had failed to keep U.S. diplomats safe and the USA would reduce the embassy staff by 60%, suspending consular services for tens of thousands of Cubans seeking visas to visit or move to the US. It comes as the United States 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.

Those affected have exhibited physical symptoms including ear complaints, hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping.

But the Cubans have said they will continue to cooperate with US authorities in what is already an unprecedented willingness to allow Federal Bureau of Investigation agents into Cuba to investigate.

USA 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. On Monday, the Associated Press reported that USA intelligence officials in Cuba first experienced the health issues.

Cuba has denied responsibility for any attacks, and has launched an investigation. Though bona fide diplomats have also been affected, it wasn't until U.S. spies, working out of the embassy under diplomatic cover, reported hearing freakish sounds and experiencing even stranger physical effects that the U.S. realized something was wrong, several individuals familiar with the situation said.

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The State Department informed the Cuban ambassador in a Tuesday phone call that the diplomats had one week to vacate the country.

Last week, the State Department removed most of its staff from the US embassy in Havana, unable to guarantee residents' safety.

The U.S. State Department is expected to announce the expulsion on Tuesday, the sources said on Monday.

While the USA did not directly blame Cuba for the attacks, a State Department official said Cuban officials needed to provide greater assurances that diplomats will no longer be attacked before both countries could resume regular diplomatic operations.

The U.S. said that since some workers had been attacked in Havana hotels, it couldn't assure Americans who visit Cuba that they wouldn't suffer attacks. Most of the departing diplomats would leave Cuba by the end of the week, a USA official said.

"Our position. does not presume Cuban culpability", the official said.

The State Department said that it would need assurances that the attacks would not continue before allowing the Cuban diplomats back.

Washington and Havana reestablished full diplomatic ties just two years ago after half a century of hostilities.

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