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Tillerson to Meet Top Cuba Envoy Amid Probe Into 'Attacks'

Image: Tillerson to Meet Top Cuba Envoy Amid Probe Into 'Attacks'

Tuesday, 26 September 2017 01:01 PM

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet Tuesday with Cuba's top diplomat, U.S. officials said, as the United States is seeking answers about mysterious "attacks" on its diplomats in Havana.

Tillerson's meeting with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez is believed to be the highest-level diplomatic contact between the two countries since the start of President Donald Trump's administration in January. It comes as the delicate rapprochement between the longtime foes, started under President Barack Obama, is being jeopardized by mounting alarm over the unexplained incidents that have harmed at least 21 Americans.

The meeting at the State Department will follow a speech Rodriguez delivered at the United Nations last week in which he harshly criticized Trump and his administration's policy toward the communist island. In a bid to show it's a good neighbor, Cuba has also offered to send doctors and humanitarian aid to Puerto Rico to help the U.S. respond to Hurricane Maria.

For months after U.S. diplomats started falling ill in Havana, the U.S. and Cuba sought to prevent the issue from becoming an overriding irritant in the relationship. Neither country disclosed publicly that the incidents were occurring, even after Washington in May expelled two Cuban diplomats to protest Havana's failure to protect Americans on its soil.

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told Congress on Tuesday that it was a reasonable suspicion that Cuban authorities either were involved in the incidents or at least knew they were occurring. Cuba keeps tight surveillance on American diplomats in the country and would be likely to know if something significant were happening to them.

But Sullivan acknowledged that with so much unknown, even that assumption is less than certain, and added: "As a U.S. government official, I don't know that."

Yet while the U.S. has avoided blaming Cuba directly for the incidents, the growing public outrage has forced both countries to adopt a tougher tone. Tillerson has said that closing the newly re-opened U.S. Embassy in Havana is under consideration, and several U.S. lawmakers have called on the Trump administration to expel all Cuban diplomats from Washington.

At least 21 U.S. diplomats and their families have suffered a variety of physical symptoms since late last year as a result of what Tillerson has described as "health attacks." Some have been diagnosed with mild brain injury and permanent hearing loss. U.S. investigators have pursued the possibility the attacks were carried out with some sort of sonic device but have been unable to determine the cause or a culprit.

Cuba has denied any knowledge or involvement.

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2017-01-26
Tuesday, 26 September 2017 01:01 PM
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