Cuba tells Tillerson: No culpability in health 'attacks'

Tillerson meets Cuba minister on 'attacks' on US staff

According to a statement released by Cuban officials, it was a "firm and frank" conversation in which the United States "demonstrated the deep concern for the security of its diplomatic staff".

The meeting was the first highest-level diplomatic contact between the two countries since Donald Trump became USA president in January. Rodriguez added that his government also would never let a third party - such as another country hostile to the US - use Cuban territory to attack Americans.

During her daily press briefing Tuesday, Nauert confirmed that Tillerson was considering shuttering the USA diplomatic post, which would rollback Obama-era efforts to normalize relations with the island nation.

Relations between the United States and Cuba were restored by then president Barack Obama and his counterpart Raul Castro in 2015, half a century after the Cold War rivals cut ties and began a long diplomatic standoff. The Trump administration has also considered smaller-scale steps such as withdrawing all nonessential personnel from Havana, leaving the embassy technically open but unable to perform its full range of functions unless and until the health concerns are resolved, US officials have said.

According to the most recent news updates, sources within the US government have raised the number of affected diplomats to at least 25 as of this week.

For months after US diplomats started falling ill in Havana, the USA and Cuba sought to prevent the issue from becoming an overriding irritant in the relationship.

Washington has not accused Cuba of being behind the attacks, but has repeatedly warned that Havana is responsible for the safety of foreign envoys on its soil, and in May, two Cuban diplomats were expelled from the US.

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"I've been trying to get a briefing scheduled and we can't seem to get it", Sires told Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan during a House Foreign Affairs Committee briefing Tuesday.

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

Yet while the USA has avoided blaming Cuba directly for the incidents, the growing public outrage has forced both countries to adopt a tougher tone.

But Tillerson said last week the United States is considering whether to close its embassy in Cuba following the alleged attacks, which USA authorities say began a year ago and continued to at least last month.

Nauert also confirmed that 21 of the diplomats experienced the attacks, which have left some victims experiencing permanent hearing loss, damage to their cognitive abilities, sleeplessness, and other serious symptoms.

"The latest medically confirmed incident took place in August", a US State Department official told AFP - not ruling out additional cases as "medical professionals continue to evaluate" diplomats posted to Cuba and their families.

Despite the presence of several theories, including a sonic attack, experts have been unable to explain the matter. Some are struggling with concentration or common word recall, The Associated Press has reported.

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