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Cuba urges US not to shutter embassy following health 'attacks' on diplomats

US Secretary of State Tillerson and his Cuban counterpart have discussed mysterious attacks on diplomats in Havana. While not accusing Cuba of the attacks, Tillerson said the country failed to protect foreign nationals.

Cuban officials on Tuesday warned the United States against making a hasty decision over the future of the countries' diplomatic ties following a spate of alleged mystery attacks on American Embassy staff in Havana, one of whom is believed to have suffered a brain trauma.

The meeting between US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla — the first top-level meeting between the two countries since US President Donald Trump entered the White House — was made at the Cuban government's behest amid reports that the US could be considering shuttering its newly re-opened embassy in Havana.

Read more: How young Cubans are learning capitalism

"The conversation was firm and frank and reflected the United States' profound concern for the safety and security of its diplomatic personnel," Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the US State Department, said. "The secretary conveyed the gravity of the situation and underscored the Cuban authorities' obligations to protect embassy staff and their families under the Vienna Convention," which dictates how host countries must look after foreign envoys.

Watch video 01:28

Historic game as US-Cuban relations thaw

At least 21 Americans and five Canadian families have been injured in the past year in what Tillerson described as "health attacks." US officials believe the attacks may have come from an "acoustic device." The most recent incident is reported to have occurred last August.

Cuba has maintained its innocence, with its embassy in Washington asserting that investigators had found no evidence in their probe "of the cause or origin of the health disorders reported by US diplomats."

Read more: Cuba goes online

In a statement summarizing Tillerson and Parrilla's talks, Cuba said, "it strictly abides by its obligations under the Vienna Convention on the protection and integrity of diplomats, an area in which it keeps an impeccable record."

"Cuba has never perpetrated nor will it ever perpetrate actions of this sort," the official statement continued. "Cuba has never allowed nor will it ever allow its territory to be used by third parties with that purpose."

Frosting relations

After 50 years of enmity, the United States and Cuba reached a historic agreement back in 2015 to resume diplomatic relations and reopen their respective embassies on the other's soil.

However, US President Donald Trump has outlined his plans pledged to roll back that detente. In his UN General Assembly last week, he described the Communist-run nation as "corrupt and destabilizing."

Read more: Could Trump's Cuban policy switch backfire?

The Trump administration is also reported to be considering scaling back its personnel in Havana until the health concerns are resolved, a move that would keep its Havana embassy technically open but unable to perform all its diplomatic functions.

Any steps toward shuttering the embassy would have a devastating impact on the delicate rapprochement between the two Cold War foes, and effectively wipe out any chance that the US will in the near future lift its trade embargo on the Caribbean island.

The Trump administration announced new restrictions on American travel to the island nation back in June along with a clampdown on US business dealings but stopped short cutting diplomatic ties.

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US-Cuba relations under Trump

dm/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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