As ties fray, U.S. to tell Cuba to remove most diplomats – Orange County Register

By JOSH LEDERMAN and MATTHEW LEE

WASHINGTON — Only days ago, the United States and Cuba maintained dozens of diplomats in newly re-opened embassies in Havana and Washington, powerful symbols of a warming relationship between longtime foes. Now both countries are poised to cut their embassies by more than half, as uncanny, unexplained attacks threaten delicate ties between the Cold War rivals.

The Trump administration will tell Cuba on Tuesday to withdraw 60 percent of its diplomats from Washington, American officials said. The move is a direct consequence of last week’s U.S. move to cut its own embassy staff in Havana by a similar proportion.

The scope of the attacks continues to grow. Although the U.S. has said there are 21 “medically confirmed victims,” officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the number has climbed to 22. It wasn’t immediately clear when the most recently discovered victim was attacked.

The U.S. request that Cuba withdraw diplomats marks yet another major setback for relations between the two neighbors, less than three years after they renewed diplomatic relations. It comes as the U.S. seeks to protect its own diplomats from unexplained attacks that have affected at least 21 Americans in Havana, in some cases harming their hearing, cognition, balance and vision.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussed the plan Monday with President Donald Trump. The State Department was expected to formally announce the decision Tuesday, officials said, though they cautioned no decision was formalized until publicly announced. The officials weren’t authorized to discuss the plan publicly and requested anonymity.

The United States will formally tell Cuba to pull the diplomats, but won’t expel them forcibly unless Havana refuses, the officials said.

Cuba’s Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, applauded the administration’s step, saying in a Twitter post that the…

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