Cuban and U.S. officials met in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday against the backdrop of a string of mysterious incidents harming American diplomats in Havana and a promise from President Donald Trump to reverse parts of the Obama administration’s Cuba opening.
The meeting was part of an ongoing series of “Bilateral Commission” meetings established by the U.S.-Cuba normalization process, but it highlighted fractures between the former foes.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday the Trump administration is considering closing the recently reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana because of unexplained incidents that left at least 21 Americans with symptoms such as permanent hearing loss and concussions. President Trump’s new Cuba policy that bars U.S. businesses from engaging Cuban military-linked entities and tightens travel rules is also expected to take effect by the end of the year.
The State Department said it reiterated “its deep concern for the safety and security of the U.S. Embassy community in Havana and the urgent need to identify the cause of these incidents and to ensure they cease.”
The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected accusations it orchestrated attacks against U.S. diplomats and their families.
“In regards [to] the alleged incidents that have affected several U.S. embassy officials and their family members in Havana, it was stressed that Cuba strictly observes its obligations to protect foreign diplomats in its soil,” an official statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. “It was also noted that Cuba has never perpetrated nor will it ever perpetrate actions of this nature, and has never permitted nor will it ever permit any third-party use of its territory for this purpose.”
Cuba has taken the unprecedented step of allowing FBI and Royal Canadian Mountain Police to travel to Havana. Investigators are looking into the possibility that the health symptoms were triggered by a sonic weapon using inaudible sound waves, the Associated Press reported. They have not ruled out the possibility that a third nation or rogue segment of Cuba’s security forces may be involved.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also criticized Trump’s new Cuba policy, which has not yet taken effect.
“The Cuban delegation placed on record its rejection of measures designed to intensify the U.S. blockade and to interfere with the Cuban internal affairs, the use of confrontational rhetoric and the political manipulation of the human rights issue as a pretext to justify U.S. policies,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
The meeting happened at about the same time Trump delivered his first remarks to the United Nations General Assembly, which included criticism of Cuba’s communist government. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Trump’s statements were “disrespectful, unacceptable and meddling.”
The Cuban delegation was led by Josefina Vidal, who served as Cuba’s chief negotiator of U.S. affairs during the Obama administration’s Cuba opening. She was recently named Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, whose diplomats also suffered mysterious health symptoms.
The U.S. delegation was represented by John Creamer, the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Cuba.