President Donald Trump on Monday said he believes the Cuban government was responsible for a series of mysterious sonic attacks against U.S. diplomatic personnel that has strained relations between Washington and Havana.
Trump told reporters he agreed with the assessment of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who said last week the administration believes the Cuban government could have stopped the attacks.
“I do believe Cuba is responsible,” the president told reporters during a press conference at the White House.
It was unclear if Trump meant that the Cuban government orchestrated the attacks or didn’t do enough to protect U.S. diplomats from whoever did. The Department of State said earlier this month that it doesn’t know who carried out the attacks.
Relations between the U.S. and Cuba have deteriorated since this summer when reports first surfaced that U.S. officials in Havana had suffered unexplained symptoms from an unknown source. What were initially described by State Department officials as “health incidents” were later confirmed to be deliberate “sonic attacks” affecting at least 21 U.S. diplomatic and intelligence personnel in Havana.
The attacks, which began in late 2016 and continued through August, caused U.S. diplomats to experience a variety of disturbing symptoms, including permanent hearing damage, memory loss, and impaired cognitive function.
In response to the attacks, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered the evacuation of all non-essential personnel from the U.S. embassy in Havana. The State Department also ordered Cuba to withdraw 15 of its own diplomats from Washington, citing Cuba’s “inability to protect [U.S] diplomats in Havana” and to ensure “equity” in staffing levels between U.S. and Cuban missions.
Tillerson says U.S. policies toward Havana have not changed, despite the reduction in U.S. embassy staff and subsequent expulsion of Cuban personnel.
“We maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba, and our work in Cuba continues to be guided by the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States,” Tillerson said last month. “Cuba has told us it will continue to investigate these attacks and we will continue to cooperate with them in this effort.”
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