Washington (AFP) – Top US diplomat Rex Tillerson met his Cuban counterpart Tuesday for a “firm and frank” discussion amid a fierce dispute over alleged attacks Washington says caused brain trauma to some American diplomats in Havana.
The meeting — the first between Tillerson and Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla since Donald Trump entered the White House — took place at the Cuban government’s request and behind closed doors.
At least 21 Americans and five Canadian families have been hurt since last year in what Tillerson has described as “health attacks,” and which US officials think may have come from an “acoustic device.”
“The conversation was firm and frank and reflected the United States’ profound concern for the safety and security of its diplomatic personnel,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert 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.”
A US State Department official told AFP the last confirmed incident took place in August, while not ruling out additional cases as “medical professionals continue to evaluate” diplomats posted to Cuba and their families.
“We do not have definitive answers on the source or cause of the incidents,” the official added.
– Closing US embassy? –
Last week, Parrilla told the UN General Assembly that his country had found no evidence to link the symptoms to any outside assault.
But Tillerson said last week the United States is considering whether to close its embassy in Cuba following the alleged attacks, which US authorities say began last year and continued to at least last month.
According to a union representing US overseas staff, the victims have suffered a variety of symptoms and injuries, including in some cases brain trauma and hearing loss.
Washington has not accused Cuba of being behind the attacks, but has repeatedly warned that Havana is responsible for the safety of foreign envoys on its soil.
In May, two Cuban diplomats were expelled from the US — a measure the Cuban government branded as “unwarranted.”
“Cuba 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,” the Cuban ministry added in a statement summarizing Parrilla’s talks with Tillerson.
Parrilla said: “Cuba has never perpetrated nor will it ever perpetrate actions of this sort. Cuba has never allowed nor will it ever allow its territory to be used by third parties with that purpose.”
Relations between the United States and Cuba were restored by then president Barack Obama and his counterpart Raul Castro in 2015, half a century after the Cold War rivals cut ties and began a long diplomatic standoff.