Five Issues; And The US Department Of State Spends Two Days Discussing Health Of US Diplomats

The issues relating to:

1) the health of United States nationals with diplomatic status at the United States Embassy in Havana, issues which commenced in 2016 and the undetermined response by the Obama Administration;

2) the non-publicized (either by the Trump Administration or Castro Administration) expulsion in May 2017 of two diplomats accredited to the Embassy of the Republic of Cuba in Washington DC;  the Trump Administration uncharacteristically did not take credit in May 2017 for action not taken by the Obama Administration;

3) the continued support by the government of the Republic of Cuba for and benefits received from the government of Venezuela;

4) the continued commercial, economic and political outreach by the government of the Republic of Cuba to the People's Republic of China, Islamic Republic of Iran, and Russian Federation;

5) and the pending issuance by the Trump Administration of new and revised regulations and policies for individuals and companies relating to travel to and transactions with Republic of Cuba government-operated entities;

will further negatively impact an already corrosive commercial, economic and political bilateral environment.  Any expectation of changes to statutes by the United States Congress is currently illusionary.  The interest by United States companies will likely continue to deteriorate unless the government of the Republic of Cuba accepts significant components of the Obama Administration initiatives and does so quickly.

Department Press Briefings: Department Press Briefing - August 10, 2017
08/10/2017 06:18 PM EDT

Heather Nauert
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 10, 2017


MS NAUERT: Okay. Let’s go to Cuba.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: I have --

MS NAUERT: Okay. Go right ahead. Hi. How are you?

QUESTION: So do you have any update – I know it’s just recent – on the diplomats and the hearing loss issue? But moreover, does the State Department have any plans for reversing the Obama administration’s efforts to diplomatic ties with Cuba? In other words, reversing the --


QUESTION: -- restoring them, reversing that action?

MS NAUERT: So I don’t have any information on that particular part for you. You mentioned particular medical ailments. That is nothing that I can confirm. I’ve certainly seen that report out in the news media. I hope that those reports would not come from any federal officials. We will not confirm the health status of any Americans, whether they’re in Cuba, back here at home, or elsewhere.

What I can tell you is that these were U.S. Government personnel who were in Cuba, in Havana, on official duty on behalf of the U.S. Government. We consider these to be incidents because we still are trying to work – determine the actual cause of their situation. They have had a variety of physical symptoms. That’s as far as I can go in describing that. We just don’t have the definitive answers yet. This is an active investigation and that investigation is ongoing at this time.

QUESTION: What about the overall diplomatic relationship between Cuba and the United States? Are there any plans to change what the Obama administration put into place?

MS NAUERT: There are – this is a situation that we’re still assessing. When I say an active investigation is underway, in part what that means is we don’t know exactly where this came from. Okay? We can’t blame any one individual or a country at this point yet. An investigation is underway. We take that very seriously. This is a U.S. Government investigation that is taking place. We’ve spoken extensively to the Cubans about this.

As you know, we had two of their Cuban diplomats leave back in late May or so. We do – and the reason that we had them leave is because we said this is the agreement that the United – United States, rather, has with Cuba, and that is that they are responsible for the safety and security of our diplomats while our diplomats are serving in that country. Our Americans were not safe; they were not secure, obviously, because something has happened to them. We take that very seriously. The safety and security of Americans at home and abroad is our top issue. We’ll continue to investigate that.

QUESTION: Global Affairs Canada --

MS NAUERT: Okay. Hold on. Hold on.

QUESTION: Global Affairs Canada --

MS NAUERT: Hold on. Are you done, ma’am?

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you so much.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Okay. Global Affairs Canada, as you might know by now, says its diplomats have been experiencing the same unusual symptoms and it’s working with the U.S. and Cuba to investigate. Is the U.S. working with any other country to investigate these incidents?

MS NAUERT: I won’t comment on anything related to another country. I can’t confirm that. I can only talk about the American piece of it.

QUESTION: And let me just ask you about Congress. This news seemed to catch several key lawmakers in Congress off guard, that deal with Cuba. And at least one U.S. senator has requested a classified briefing from the State Department. Why hasn’t the State Department, if it cares so much about what’s going on with its diplomats, alerted Congress?

MS NAUERT: Oh, there have been conversations that have been going on between the interagency, and I assume – and that means Congress as well. So Congress, as certain folks have been – I can’t tell you exactly who. I don’t know off the top of my head – but have been made aware of this. This is not something that certain members of Congress are learning about for the first time.

QUESTION: Well, let me ask you this: Why are we just learning about this? This – these two Cuban diplomats left on May the 23rd. This has been going on at least eight or nine months, and now we’re just learning about this. Why?

MS NAUERT: As a reporter, you’re going to ask me that question?


MS NAUERT: I mean, goodness, you could have been down there reporting on this. Look, no, the honest question is and the real answer to this is: People started experiencing ailments in late 2016. Okay? And think about it; when you have an ailment you don’t always know exactly what’s causing it. Okay? You have that ailment; you maybe decide to put it off for a while, get medical treatment, maybe not. Okay? Some of these things take time to investigate, in particular ones that are – people aren’t certain what has caused them.

So this takes time to figure out. That is why I say an investigation is ongoing. We have provided medical care and medical treatment and screening to our Americans who have asked for that. Some people have been brought home as a result. So I kind of take issue with the tone of your question, as though we don’t care about this. I think we’ve been clear in our responsibility and our – let me finish – and our concern about Americans who are serving on behalf of the U.S. Government in other countries.

QUESTION: Do you think those diplomats that have been experiencing these symptoms are satisfied with the response they’ve gotten from the State Department?

MS NAUERT: I don’t know the answer to that.

QUESTION: Heather, can I you ask you two semi-related?


QUESTION: One, without getting into any specific country – names of other countries that might have had diplomats involved, are you aware of – that diplomats from other countries were – had suffered similar --

QUESTION: Physical --

QUESTION: -- physical symptoms?

MS NAUERT: I have seen reports, and that’s all I can say about that.

QUESTION: Okay, but so you don’t – so you’re unable to say whether or not this was only something that happened to Americans.

MS NAUERT: I just can’t confirm here from a U.S. Government post that other countries may have or have not had the same issue happen to them. I can only speak to what Americans have faced.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria next?

QUESTION: One more on Cuba.


MS NAUERT: Okay, are we – Cuba? Hi, hey.

QUESTION: You seem to leave open the possibility that another country is involved in some of this --

MS NAUERT: I didn’t. I didn’t. This guy right here next to you did.

QUESTION: Sorry, apologies. Not that someone else has been attacked, but that they seem to be – the possibility of a third country being involved in the attacks themselves, as in it might not be the Cubans who are behind the idea. So --

MS NAUERT: I know people want answers. I appreciate that. Okay? But this is an ongoing investigation. We don’t have all the answers yet. So I appreciate that you want to try to push me to say something. I’m not going to get ahead of the investigators, I’m not going to get ahead of this investigation, I’m not going to create storylines for you that don’t match up with the facts as we know them right now. Okay? So I’m not going to get into that. It is an area that is under investigation that is a major concern of ours.

QUESTION: Can you say if, going back in research, that this building has seen anything similar to this in the past?

MS NAUERT: Matt, that’s a good question. I have not --

QUESTION: Whether it’s in Cuba or anywhere else.

MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m not personally aware of that. I can certainly ask some of our folks who have been around for longer than I have about that and see what I can do for you.

QUESTION: That would be pretty much everyone in the building. (Laughter.) That’s not the --

MS NAUERT: I’ve been here three months now. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- not to be an insult. And then the last thing on this: You have seen the response or the statement that the Cuban Government put out last night saying that it does not condone any, would not allow any kind of, I don’t know --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: -- interference with foreign diplomats, and that it takes seriously and respects its Vienna Convention obligations. Do you accept that?

MS NAUERT: I would just say this about what you mentioned: We remain in regular contact with the Cuban Government. They are providing some guidance, some assistance on this investigation as the investigation is underway. We – in that regular contact, we hope to resolve this matter in a satisfactory fashion. And let me just leave it at that. Okay?

QUESTION: Right. But I just want to – I mean, do you take at face value when they – do you accept it that they respect – I mean, you made a big point yesterday of talking about the Vienna Convention and how Cuba has obligations under it to protect foreign diplomats.

MS NAUERT: Yeah. And they talked about that, yeah. But --

QUESTION: Right. And they say that they do.


QUESTION: But clearly, you don’t think that --

MS NAUERT: Well, look, I think --

QUESTION: -- they do.

MS NAUERT: -- U.S. Government officials have been affected in some way --


MS NAUERT: -- by these incidents. Physically affected by these incidents. It is the Cuban Government’s obligation under the Geneva Convention – excuse me, under --


MS NAUERT: Vienna, thank you. Under Vienna Conventions to ensure the safety and protection of our diplomats there.

QUESTION: But, so you’re – I think what you’re saying is that despite the statement from last night, you’re still not convinced?

MS NAUERT: They have an obligation to do that, and that obviously did not happen. Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Anything else? Are we done with Cuba?

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?


QUESTION: Got a tad more on that.


QUESTION: Have staffing levels at the mission returned to the levels they were before the incidents came to light?

MS NAUERT: I can tell you this: that our embassy there in Havana is fully operational, it is fully staffed, they are still involved in business. As a precaution and for concern and the well-being of our embassy staffers there, we’ve allowed a limited number of personnel to curtail their tours of duty, and what that can mean is that some of them can transfer posts, come home if they want, or try to go elsewhere.

QUESTION: Well, wait a second. If the embassy is fully staffed --


QUESTION: -- that means that however many number left that you reciprocated by telling the Cubans they had to take two – they had to get two out, if you’re saying it’s now fully staffed, can’t – can the Cubans bring their two guys back or two diplomats back?

MS NAUERT: We brought our people home out of care and concern for their medical well-being.

QUESTION: I understand, but if they had been replaced and you’re now fully staffed and you’re back up at the number of diplomats, they should --

MS NAUERT: Well, I don’t know that we’re – this is where you guys want to get into the number of people at our embassies, and I’m not going to do that, as you know that. I mean, I don’t know if we’re down one or if we’re up one in terms of our embassy personnel. That --

QUESTION: Well, when you say “fully staffed,” that suggests that --

MS NAUERT: “Fully staffed” means we have people doing the jobs.

QUESTION: Heather, I understand that, but if you told the Cubans they had to lose two diplomats from their embassy here because – in a reciprocal manner because you lost the two from – I mean, you lost the --

MS NAUERT: I have never – I have never indicated any number.

QUESTION: -- okay, because you lost the number from there and now you say it’s fully staffed, that would suggest that however many people left from your embassy are now back.

MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not going to get down this rabbit hole of numbers of people – yeah.

QUESTION: And that would mean then that it is no longer necessary for the Cuban embassy to be down two staffers.

MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not going to draw that conclusion. We are open for business.

QUESTION: Well, this is pretty standard diplomacy.

QUESTION: But is Cuba safe --

MS NAUERT: We are – we are – hold on. We are open for business. There are people there doing the work. If we’re up one, down one, I’m not going to get into those kinds of details. Okay? But just understand that the work is being done there. Okay?

Department Press Briefings: Department Press Briefing - August 9, 2017
08/09/2017 06:07 PM EDT

Heather Nauert
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 9, 2017

QUESTION: Can you tell us about the incidents that have been going on in Havana affecting U.S. Government workers there?

MS NAUERT: Yes. So we are certainly aware of what has happened there. Give me one second here. And that’s why we got a little bit of a late start getting some recent updates for you on this.

So some U.S. Government personnel who were working at our embassy in Havana, Cuba on official duties – so they were there working on behalf of the U.S. embassy there – they’ve reported some incidents which have caused a variety of physical symptoms. I’m not going to be able to give you a ton of information about this today, but I’ll tell you what we do have that we can provide so far.

We don’t have any definitive answers about the source or the cause of what we consider to be incidents. We can tell you that on May 23rd, the State Department took further action. We asked two officials who were accredited at the Embassy of Cuba in the United States to depart the United States. Those two individuals have departed the United States. We take this situation very seriously. One of the things we talk about here often is that the safety and security of American citizens at home and abroad is our top priority. We’re taking that situation seriously and it’s under investigation right now.

QUESTION: If the U.S. doesn’t have a definitive answer on the cause or source of the incidents, why did it ask those two Cuban embassy officials to depart the U.S.?

MS NAUERT: Look, our – some of our people have had the option of leaving Cuba as a result for medical reasons.

QUESTION: And how many?

MS NAUERT: I can’t tell you the exact number of that, but I can --

QUESTION: But was it in the tens, dozens?

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize it. I do not believe it was that large, certainly not that large, but we had to bring some Americans home or some Americans chose to go home – come home as a result of that. And as a result of that, we’ve asked two Cubans to leave the United States and they have.

QUESTION: In other words, this is a reciprocity thing, right? You’re --

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to call it as such, but we asked two people to go home.

QUESTION: And how long has this been going on for?

MS NAUERT: So we first heard about these incidents back in late 2016.

QUESTION: And who is leading the investigation?

MS NAUERT: The U.S. Government is investigating this. I’m just – I’m not going to get into it prior to that.

QUESTION: What agency?

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to – going to get into it. You know which law enforcement agencies we have that would be concerned about this. The State Department is involved, but you could check with others as well.

QUESTION: And just real quickly, was it just State Department employees or other employees from other government agencies?

MS NAUERT: So these were – my understanding is that it has only affected State Department employees. This has not affected any private U.S. citizens down there. We take this very seriously. Look --

QUESTION: What is “this?”

MS NAUERT: This incident. This incident.

QUESTION: But what is the incident?

MS NAUERT: And that’s what – and that’s what we’re calling it. We don’t know exactly what --

QUESTION: This has been going on since 2016 and you don’t know what this incident is?

MS NAUERT: What this requires is providing medical examinations to these people. Initially, when they started reporting what I will just call symptoms, it took time to figure out what it was, and this is still ongoing. So we’re monitoring it. We provide medical care and concern to those who believe that they have been affected by it, and we take this extremely seriously.

QUESTION: So do you – just getting back to my question on reciprocity, and I know you don’t want to use the word, but is it – did you – did – were the two Cubans told or asked to leave because of a similar or proportional drawdown in the U.S. staff in Havana because of these symptoms?

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize it that way at all. I can just – I can only tell you the two were asked to leave and they did.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you’re --

MS NAUERT: Because what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to draw an equivalency. You’re trying to say two guys were asked to go home and therefore X number of Americans were brought home, and I’m not – just not going to make that comparison.

QUESTION: But actually I’m – well, I’m not saying there’s a direct proportion, although maybe the Russians might disagree on that. But the reason that the two left is because you had to reduce your staff, or have the people who left Havana been replaced?

MS NAUERT: Some – I’m not sure if our people who have left Havana have been replaced. I know that we’ve given our employees there a chance to come home if they would like to, and they have jobs here.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Let me just mention one other thing about this. The Cuban Government has a responsibility and an obligation under the Geneva Convention to protect our diplomats, so that is part of the reason why this is such a major concern of ours, why we take this so seriously, and in addition to the protection and security of Americans. I hope I’ve answered your question.

QUESTION: Can I have – question on Syria?

MS NAUERT: Okay. Any – hold on. Anything else on Cuba?

QUESTION: Can you just give us a sense of are these medical problems ongoing or was this a short-term thing?

MS NAUERT: And you’ve heard me say this here before: When we talk about medical issues about Americans, we don’t get into it. So I can just tell you that it was – it is a cause of great concern for us, it’s caused a variety of physical symptoms in these American citizens who work for the U.S. Government. We take those incidents very seriously and there is an investigation currently underway.

QUESTION: I mean, can you say are they life-threatening? I mean, the physical symptom is – wasn’t death, was it?

MS NAUERT: No, it was not. It was not, not life --

QUESTION: And – but not life-threatening?

MS NAUERT: Not life-threatening, and I’ll leave it at that. Anything else on Cuba?

QUESTION: Can we go back to North Korea?

MS NAUERT: Anything else on Cuba?

QUESTION: On North Korea?

MS NAUERT: We’re done with Cuba, correct? Okay. Let’s go to North Korea. Hi.