STATE DEPARTMENT - The United States has informed the Cuban government that it is ordering the departure of 15 officials from the Cuban embassy in Washington.
A senior State Department official told reporters Tuesday the Cuban diplomats have seven days to leave the country.
The announcement comes less than a week after the U.S. reduced its diplomatic presence in Havana following mysterious attacks on U.S. personnel in Cuba. The senior State Department official also said the number of American diplomats “medically confirmed” to have experienced health attacks in Havana has now been raised from 21 to 22.
In a statement released Tuesday Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained the decision to expel Cuban officials from Washington.
“The decision was made due to Cuba’s failure to take appropriate steps to protect our diplomats in accordance with its obligations under the Vienna Convention," Tillerson said. "This order will ensure equity in our respective diplomatic operations.”
The secretary said the U.S. continues to maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba and will continue to cooperate with Cuba on investigating the attacks.
US pullout of Cuba
On Friday the State Department announced it would pull all non-essential diplomatic personnel out of Cuba in response to the mysterious "health attacks.”
The new expulsion order for Cuban diplomats would in effect leave both countries with only emergency-level staffing at their respective embassies. The sudden deterioration in US-Cuban ties comes after then President Barack Obama’s hopeful re-opening of relations after 50 years in 2015.
Over the past several months U.S. personnel in Cuba reported a variety of symptoms, including hearing loss, dizziness, cognitive issues and trouble sleeping. In a statement announcing the U.S. drawn down, Secretary of State Rex TIllerson said investigators couldn't determine the cause of those health issues or who might be responsible.
The U.S. has not accused Cuba of being behind the attacks, but the State Department did expel two Cuban diplomats in May after the attacks first came to light, saying that Cuba had failed to protect the safety of diplomats on Cuban soil.
Cuba denies wrongdoing
Cuba has denied involvement in the attacks and said it is cooperating with the U.S. investigation.
On Tuesday, a senior State Department official said the U.S. still does not presume Cuban culpability for the attacks and still does not know who is behind them or how the attacks were carried out.
The American Foreign Service Association, or AFSA, is the professional association of the U.S. Foreign Service. AFSA’s President Barbara Stephenson put out a statement opposing the U.S. decision to reduce its staff in Havana.
“American diplomats need to remain on the field and in the game. We have a mission to do, and we’re used to operating with serious health risks in many environments, whether it’s parasites that rip up our guts in Africa, exposure to Zika virus and dengue fever, or air pollution in China and India," Stephenson said. "It’s a complicated question regarding what is actually causing the health issues in Cuba, but our members are clear that they have an important mission to accomplish.