- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2017

The recently reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana could soon close because of a string of mysterious “sonic attacks” earlier this year that harmed the health of American diplomats in Cuba, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said Sunday.

In 2015, after roughly a half-century of estrangement, the two former foes reestablished diplomatic ties, although President Trump has been critical of former President Barack Obama’s terms in agreeing to end the diplomatic freeze.

Mr. Tillerson’s comments, made on “Face the Nation” on CBS, were the strongest indication to date that the United States might mount a major diplomatic response, potentially jeopardizing the historic detente.

“We have it under evaluation,” Mr. Tillerson said of a possible embassy closure. “It’s a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered. We’ve brought some of those people home. It’s under review.”

There are now 21 medically confirmed U.S. victims in what remains a baffling medical mystery. Some State Department personnel stationed at the Havana embassy have permanent hearing loss or concussions, while others suffered nausea, headaches and ear-ringing. Some are struggling with concentration or recalling basic words, according to The Associated Press.

According to a U.S. official briefed on the matter, the last reported incident occurred on Aug. 2. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and requested anonymity.

Some victims felt vibrations or heard loud sounds mysteriously audible in only parts of rooms, leading investigators to consider a potential “sonic attack.” Others heard nothing but later developed symptoms.

Mr. Tillerson once called the events “health attacks,” but the State Department has since used the term “incidents,” while emphasizing the U.S. still doesn’t know what has occurred. The government of Cuban President Raul Castro has denied any involvement or responsibility, and insists it is eager to help the U.S. resolve the matter.

The U.S. has said the tally of Americans affected could grow as more cases are detected.

Mr. Tillerson spoke on “Face the Nation” as world leaders and top diplomats descended on New York for annual U.N. General Assembly meetings. President Trump will give his first speech on the major global platform this week.

Cuba is also represented at the U.N., but it’s not expected Mr. Trump will meet with any Cuban leaders or officials during his visit.

Five Republican senators recently wrote to Mr. Tillerson, urging the Trump administration to declare Cuban diplomats unwelcome and shutter the embassy in Cuba.

Cuba’s neglect of its duty to protect our diplomats and their families cannot go unchallenged,” wrote the lawmakers, who included Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a prominent Cuban-American and critic of the U.S. detente.

While the U.S. has not formally blamed the Cuban government for the incidents, it asked two Cuban diplomats to leave the country earlier this year.

The incidents have raised concerns across Havana’s tight-knit diplomatic community, and at least one other country, France, has tested embassy staff for potential sonic-induced injuries.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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