In retaliation for a string of sonic attacks against American diplomats in Havana, the State Department has demanded that more than a dozen Cuban officials leave the Cuban Embassy in Washington. The secretary of state clarified that he meant to "maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba", even amid the seemingly tense investigation.
"I think the conversations have focused on the Cuban government's responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of diplomatic personnel that they host in their country", the officials 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 attacks, which United States officials initially suggested could have come from some sort of covert acoustic device, have affected at least 22 U.S. embassy staff in Havana over the past few months.
The decision is aimed at keeping parity in staffing levels after the USA ordered more than half its diplomats and their families to leave the island 29 September following the unexplained incidents, which left staff with hearing loss, cognitive issues and difficulty sleeping, a State Department official, who asked not to be identified, briefed reporters.
The Trump administration has said that 21 USA diplomats have been affected, but according to the three journalists, investigators discovered that numerous first reported cases involved intelligence workers posted to the Havana embassy.
The reductions are just the latest step in the rapidly unraveling US-Cuban relations that were restored in 2015 by former President Barack Obama.
"Because our personnel's safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe USA citizens may also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba", the USA said in a travel warning.
But Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez denounced it as an "unjustified decision", accused the United States of insufficient cooperation with Cuba's investigation of the incidents and urged Washington to stop politicizing the matter.
Although several Canadian personnel were also affected this year, the federal government says the attacks have apparently stopped; there have been no incidents since the spring; the Cuban government has been co-operative in investigating the incidents; and there is no change in policy.
In March, the United States asked two Cuban diplomats to leave the USA as a reciprocal measure after two U.S. diplomats injured in the attacks were unable to return to their posting.
The US also said that the move was created to achieve parity in each country's embassy functions, after Washington announced the withdrawal on Friday of non-emergency personnel - more than half its diplomats in Havana, as well as all family members.
The U.S. Department of State ordered 15 Cuban officials from the embassy in Washington, D.C., to leave the country.
While the move is described as an "expulsion", the USA isn't declaring them "persona non grata" - a designation that would prevent them from ever returning, according to a State Department official.
According to a senior federal official, the USA measure was based on the health incidents reported by US embassy officials in Havana, but stressed that it does not mean a change of policy toward the Caribbean country or assignment of responsibilities for those acts.
The US State Department was expected to announce the decision as soon as Tuesday, said US media citing the anonymous officials who were familiar with the plan.
The Associated Press reported that Cuban official called the American response "irresponsible", and "hasty".
Canada and the United States have responded in drastically different ways to freaky attacks on diplomatic personnel in Havana, with the Americans pursuing a hardline approach that escalated Tuesday.