US expels two Cuban diplomats citing 'influence operations'

US says it is expelling two Cuban diplomats and restricting travel of members of Cuba's UN mission to Manhattan.

    State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said her government requested two members of Cuba's Permanent Mission to the United Nations to leave [File: The Associated Press]
    State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said her government requested two members of Cuba's Permanent Mission to the United Nations to leave [File: The Associated Press]

    The United States has ordered the expulsion of two Cuban diplomats and restricted travel of the remaining members of Cuba's mission to the United Nations.

    In a statement on Thursday, a spokeswoman for the US Department of State said Washington told Havana it "requires the imminent departure" of two members of Cuba's UN mission "due to their attempts to conduct influence operations against the US".

    "In addition to the required departures, travel within the United States by all members of Cuba's Permanent Mission to the United Nations will now essentially be restricted to the island of Manhattan," said Morgan Ortagus. 

    In a subsequent post on Twitter, she added: "We take any & all attempts against the National Security of the US seriously."

    The move drew strong condemnation from Cuba.

    Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez, Cuba's foreign minister, "strongly rejected" the expulsion defining the allegations as "gross slander".

    He also said the expulsion was intended to cause an "escalation that may lead to the shutting down of both embassies, to further tighten the blockade and create tensions between both countries."

    The decision came as the UN holds its 74th General Assembly in New York.

    "Given that the situation is ongoing, we will not comment further at this stage other than to confirm that we will closely follow this matter," the UN said in a statement. 

    The US is generally required to allow foreign diplomats to access the UN "as promptly as possible", but the government can deny visas for "security, terrorism, and foreign policy" reasons.

    Cuba and the US have a history of tension. In October 2017, Trump expelled 15 Cuban diplomats and recalled 60 percent of US diplomatic staff from its embassy in Cuba over "mysterious health attacks".

    In April, former US National Security Advisor John Bolton called Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua as a "troika of tyranny" and imposed new sanctions against the three countries

    Former US President Barack Obama managed to restore ties with the Cuban government in 2015, with both countries reopening their embassies. 

    At the time, the decision was hailed as an "historic step forward". The US and Cuba severed relations in 1961 during the Cold War.

    Cuba has been under a US economic blockade for over 50 years.

    However, Trump's administration took steps to partially roll back some of Obama's reforms while maintaining the embassy in Havana. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies