WASHINGTON – State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Thursday that the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba would remain “fully operational” despite reports of American diplomats suffering suspicious physical symptoms that resulted in their departure from the island.
Nauert was peppered with questions Thursday about media reports that several diplomats serving in the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba have suffered hearing loss because of a “covert sonic device,” but she would not confirm the report.
“I don’t have any information on that particular part for you,” Nauert said when asked by Breitbart News if there was an update on the media report and if the State Department had any plans to reverse the diplomatic relationship that Obama had put in place.
“You mentioned particular medical ailments,” Nauert said. “That is nothing that I can confirm.”
“I’ve certainly seen that report out in the news media,” Nauert said. “I hope that those reports would not come from any federal officials.”
The Associated Press reported: “U.S. officials say was a string of bizarre incidents that left a group of American diplomats in Havana with severe hearing loss attributed to a covert sonic device.”
“Some of the diplomats’ symptoms were so severe that they were forced to cancel their tours early and return to the United States, officials said,” AP reported. “After months of investigation, U.S. officials concluded that the diplomats had been exposed to an advanced device that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences.”
“It was not immediately clear if the device was a weapon used in a deliberate attack, or had some other purpose,” AP reported, noting that the U.S. officials “weren’t authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.”
Nauert said at the press briefing that the State Department does not release medical information about its diplomats but confirmed that those who fell ill beginning in late 2016 were U.S. government personnel who were in Cuba, in Havana, on official duty on behalf of the U.S. government.
“We consider these to be incidents because we are still trying to determine the actual cause of their situation,” Nauert said. “They have had a variety of physical symptoms — that’s as far as I can go in describing that.”
“We just don’t have the definitive answers yet,” Nauert said. “This is an active investigation and that investigation is ongoing at this time.”
When asked — again — about the status of the diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Cuba and whether there were plans to reverse the full reopening of the embassy ordered by former president Barack Obama two years ago, Nauert did not specifically answer the question.
“This is a situation that we’re still assessing,” Nauert said. “When I say an active investigation is under way, in part what that means is, we don’t know exactly where this came from. Okay?”
“We can’t blame any one individual or a country at this point yet,” Nauert said. “An investigation is under way. We take that very seriously.”
But Nauert also said that two Cuban diplomats were expelled from the United States because of the sick diplomats in the Spring.
“The reason that we had them leave is because we said, this is the agreement that the United States has with Cuba and that is that they are responsible for the safety and security of our diplomats while our diplomats are serving in that country,” Nauer said.
“Our Americans were not safe, they were not secure, obviously because something has happened to them — we take that very seriously; the safety and security of Americans at home and abroad is our top issue; we’ll continue to investigate that,” Nauert said.
When a reporter asked Nauert about the status of the embassy given the departure of the diplomats, she said work there continues.
“I can tell you that our embassy there in Havana is fully operational,” Nauert said.