U.S. Officials Express ‘Urgent Need’ to Unravel Mystery of ‘Sonic’ Attacks on Diplomats

Cubans say they don't know how attacks happened, blast Trump for 'unacceptable' statements at U.N.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson / Getty Images
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson / Getty Images

The United States and Cuba went forward with their first formal diplomatic meeting since President Trump was elected in the face of calls from several GOP senators to kick out all Cuban diplomats in Washington—and possibly shut down the embassy—if the Cuban government cannot provide more information about the mysterious "sonic" attacks on U.S. diplomats in Havana.

State Department officials and Cuban government representatives met in Washington Tuesday for the sixth meeting of the Bilateral Commission, a formal working group established under President Barack Obama's policy of renewing diplomatic and economic ties with the island nation.

The State Department provided a terse read-out of the meeting Wednesday morning, noting that it "provided an opportunity to discuss the incidents affecting diplomatic personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana."

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"The United States 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 read-out states.

The State Department said the delegations also "reviewed" President Trump's "priorities and areas for engagement in the interests of the United States and the Cuban people, including human rights; the implementation of the migration accords; and protecting the national security and public health and safety of the United States."

Cuba was not as diplomatic in their assessment. The Cuban delegation protested Trump's "disrespectful, unacceptable, and meddling statements" during his address to the U.N. General Assembly.

Cuba also noted that the commission meeting took place against the backdrop of what they considered a "reversal" in the diplomatic and economic thaw pursued during the final years of the Obama administration.

Trump announced restrictions on Americans traveling to the island and prohibited U.S. visitors from staying in any hotels doing business with the Cuban military in June.

The new approach left many of Obama's other travel and commercial policies in place and would not reinstate the wet foot, dry foot policies of the past when Cubans who made it to the United States were allowed to remain legally in the country.

The Cubans accused the Trump administration of trying to "intensify the U.S. blockade," the government's term for the still-existing trade embargo that only Congress can fully repeal, and "to interfere with Cuban internal affairs."

The delegation, led by Josefina Vidal, the lead negotiator for Cuba during the Obama administration's rapprochement, also took issue with Trump's "use of confrontational rhetoric and the political manipulation of the human-rights issues as a pretext to justify U.S. policies."

Despite the obvious hostility toward the Trump administration, the delegation took a much more conciliatory tone when addressing the mysterious incidents that have physically harmed U.S. diplomats in Havana.

"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," they said, noting that the Cuban government has a "keen interest" in clarifying what caused the physical ailments.

Five GOP members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, including its chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, (R., N.C.), called on the Trump administration last week to expel Cuban diplomats from Washington immediately and close the embassy if Havana and the Cuban government is not more forthcoming about the "sonic" attacks.

Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Richard Burr (N.C.), John Cornyn (Texas), and James Lankford (Okla.) called for the action in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

If the Trump administration takes the step of closing the embassies it would reverse much of the effort to normalize relations with Cuba taken during the Obama administration.

Tillerson on Sunday said the United States is actively considering closing its embassies over the "sonic" attacks on U.S. diplomats in Cuba.

"It's a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered," Tillerson told CBS's "Face the Nation." "We've brought some of those people home. It's under review."