The Cable

U.S. Boots 15 Cuban Diplomats out of Washington

But the State Department says it’s not blaming Havana for “attacks” on U.S. diplomats’ health.

The Cuban flag flies by the country's Washington, D.C. embassy in July 2015. / Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
The Cuban flag flies by the country's Washington, D.C. embassy in July 2015. / Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

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 U.S. diplomats from Havana after a spate of bizarre health scares.

The State Department gave the Cuban ambassador a list of names of people to be sent home within a week.

U.S. government officials insist that the forced reduction in Cuban diplomatic personnel does not signal a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, nor does it imply that Washington is ready to blame Havana for mysterious ailments that have now affected 22 U.S. diplomats.

Rather, a State Department official said on a briefing call Tuesday morning, the move is meant to underscore the responsibility of the Cuban government for the safety and security of American diplomats working there. And it is meant to ensure “equitable impact” — the United States removed all but “essential” personnel from Cuba last week. Given speculation that the health scare has hit U.S. intelligence officials working out of the embassy in Havana especially hard, “equitable impact” might mean reining in Cuba’s own intel operation for the time being.

But even if Washington insists it does not yet consider Cuba to be to blame, it is holding Cuba responsible. The State Department does not yet know who or what caused the health effects, and so it is not entirely clear what specific moves Cuba could take to ensure the safety and security of U.S. officials. Pressed on this point, the State Department official said it was Cuba’s responsibility under international law to ensure the wellbeing of U.S. diplomatic personnel, and not on the United States to outline criteria.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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