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U.S. set to pull embassy staff out of Cuba

30 September 2017

But while he said in a speech in June that he was "canceling" the deal, many of its aspects, including the opening of the embassy, remained in place.

Proposals for a drawdown have moved forward since U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez in Washington on Tuesday to discuss the case, which has been threatening the already fragile detente between the two former Cold War foes.

Tillerson considered closing the embassy but was persuaded to leave it open by the growing belief of USA officials that Cuba is not responsible for the health problems, The New York Times reported Friday.

The move will deal a blow to the delicate ties between the United States and Cuba. "Cuba has told us it will continue to investigate these attacks and we will continue to cooperate with them in this effort", the statement concluded. But officials said Friday the US now believes "specific attacks" targeted the diplomats in Cuba.

"We have not ruled out the possibility of a third country as part of the investigation but that investigation continues and will continue irrespective of the ordered departure" of USA personnel, a USA official said.

In recent months, several United States diplomats and family members have been affected by health problems. The Vienna Convention refers to worldwide law that governs how host countries must treat foreign envoys. Yet Rodriguez told Tillerson that "it would be regrettable that a matter of this nature is politicized", reviving an argument Rodriguez made last week before the United Nations General Assembly.

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The U.S. has ordered the departure of all nonessential personnel and all family members from the American embassy in Cuba, which will reduce the U.S. diplomatic presence by more than half. Furthermore, the measure will leave the embassy understaffed during a crucial political period, as Raul Castro is reportedly expected to step down as president of Cuba. Further, the US will stop issuing visas within the country, "effective immediately".

The U.S. decision to withdraw up to 60 percent of its diplomatic personnel in Cuba opens a "negative period" in bilateral ties, said a top Cuban analyst Friday. U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson had been considering closing the embassy entirely over concerns about the unexplained health issues.

Cuba has denied any involvement.

On Thursday, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert spoke of the "incidents" - not "attacks" - in Havana, and said they were under review, including with investigations on the ground by the FBI. Cuba keeps tight surveillance on American diplomats in the country and would be likely to know if something significant were happening to them.

How have US officials and leaders reacted?

Russian intelligence agents have been known to use audio weapons, but the US has not definitively determined who is responsible for the attacks in Cuba. He stressed that Washington maintains diplomatic relations with Cuba despite the episode. Some have been diagnosed with mild brain injury and permanent hearing loss. On the other hand, officials have struggled with the moral dimensions of keeping diplomats in a place where the USA government can not guarantee their safety. Others suffered nausea, headaches and ear-ringing.

U.S. set to pull embassy staff out of Cuba