The State Department announced Tuesday it had told Cuba to remove 15 people from its embassy in Washington, a not-quite-tit-for-tat reprisal for the sudden departure last week of US diplomats from Havana after a spate of freaky health scares.
The announcement comes less than a week after the US reduced its diplomatic presence in Havana following mysterious attacks on USA personnel in Cuba.
Tillerson clarified that diplomatic relations between the two countries will continue during the investigations into the mysterious attacks, according to The New York Times.
The move came just days after the department ordered the departure of nonemergency personnel assigned to the US embassy in Havana, as well as their family members.
The diplomats experienced unexplained health problems from attacks that occurred as recently as August, including ear complaints, hearing loss, dizziness, tinnitus, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues and difficulty sleeping, the State Department said last month.
"We have underscored repeatedly to the Cuban government its responsibility for the safety, wellbeing, security and protection of our diplomatic staff under the Vienna Convention in Havana", the state department official said.
The State Department gave Cuba's ambassador a list Tuesday of 15 names and ordered them out within one week, officials said, in a move that aims to "ensure equity" between each nation's embassy staffing.
The withdrawal of non-essential personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Havana continues, he added, and should be completed by the end of the week.
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"The United States will not send official delegations to Cuba or conduct bilateral meetings in Cuba for the time being".
So on Tuesday, hours after the US expelled its diplomats, Cuba finally went on offence.
"It appears that this plays right into the hands of a potential rogue actor - Russian Federation perhaps - that is trying to create a further wedge between our two countries and other nations in the hemisphere", said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. Cuba has not commented on Tuesday's announcement. Ties between the US and Cuba were restored under President Barack Obama in 2014 after more than half a century. Cuban officials say they're disappointed in the U.S. retaliatory measures but will continue cooperating with the investigation.
"This move does not signal a change of policy or determination of responsibility for the attacks on USA government personnel in Cuba".
The attacks are suspected to be from sonic devices.
America blames Cuba for failing to protect American personnel in Cuba who've been targeted in mysterious attacks affecting their health. Last week, the US announced it was withdrawing 60 percent of the USA diplomats from Cuba because they might be harmed if they stay.
Cubans and Americans in Havana said they're bewildered by the diplomatic spat between the two countries.
The FBI and Cuban law enforcement agencies are cooperating in an investigation but so far, neither government can say what has caused the illnesses, who is responsible, or how to stop them. While the move is described as an "expulsion", the US isn't declaring them "persona non grata" - a designation that would prevent them from ever returning, according to a State Department official. "That has not changed", said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert in a daily briefing on Tuesday.
For those staying and new arrivals, the U.S. has been giving instructions about what to watch and listen for to identify an attack in progress. "We are maintaining diplomatic relations with Havana".