Cuba's communist government has condemned the U.S. expulsion of 14 Cuban diplomats as "an aggressive step" and a "provocation." However, Havana has not announced any reciprocal action against American diplomats posted there.

In a statement issued by the Cuban Foreign Ministry, this week's expulsion of Cuban diplomats is being described as "provocative meddling against Cuba." The statement said the government of President Fidel Castro rejects what is described as an "aggressive step," but the Foreign Ministry also said it will take its time in responding to the action.

The statement was the first response by the communist government to the U.S. announcement Tuesday that seven Cuban diplomats in Washington and seven at the United Nations in New York were being given 10 days to leave the country for what was described as "inappropriate and unacceptable activities." These terms are generally used when diplomats are being accused of espionage activities. This was the largest expulsion ever of Cuban diplomats.

The move comes at a time of increasing tension between the United States and Cuba and the worst crackdown on dissidents in recent Cuban history. U.S. officials deny that the expulsions are linked to the crackdown on the island, but longtime observers say the action can be seen as part of an overall escalation of tensions between the two governments that began earlier this year. The Cuban government began its repression of dissent in March after accusing U.S. diplomats in Havana of conspiring with dissidents to undermine the communist system.

The United States broke relations with Cuba in 1961, but the two nations have maintained missions known as interest sections in each other's capitals since the late 1970s.

In the past few years support had been growing in the United States for an easing of the American embargo against Cuba, and the United States only recently opened the way for food sales to Cuba. But tensions started growing after Washington expelled four Cuban diplomats last October for alleged spying activity, and the Bush administration has indicated that the embargo may be supplemented with even tougher measures such as a suspension of cash transfers by Cuban exiles to family members in Cuba.

In the recent crackdown against dissidents, the Castro government sent 75 people to prison for as much as 25 years after summary trials in which the accused were prevented from mounting even a minimal defense. Many of the prominent dissident figures are now in solitary confinement at prisons far from Havana making it difficult for family members to visit them. In a separate incident last month the Castro government executed three alleged hijackers only days after their arrest. This, as well as the dissident crackdown, drew strong condemnation from the European Union, the Vatican, several Latin American nations and international human rights organizations.