- As China pledges neutrality – unless US strikes North Korea first
The U.S. government is consulting with outside experts to determine what happened to American diplomats in the Havana embassy who returned home with damaged hearing, officials told NBC News on Thursday.
What caused the Americans in Cuba to suddenly begin losing their hearing remains a mystery, intelligence officials said. A range of possibilities are being considered, based on the reported symptoms, and it’s not clear whether ultrasonic sound waves were to blame. It could also have been radio waves or even attempted poisoning, one official said.
No single U.S. agency is clearly in the lead on the investigation at this point, according to a senior law enforcement official, although State Department Diplomatic Security is the default lead, because it is responsible for the security of U.S. personnel. The FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies are also involved, as are other government agencies with expertise about potential causes.
Publicly, the State Department has said only that the Americans returned home with “physical issues.”
One State Department official confirmed reports that the diplomats were experiencing symptoms of hearing loss, and a Cuban government official told NBC News the Americans had complained of an acoustic “incident.”
The State Department has also left open the possibility of a third country being involved. Iran, North Korea and Russia all have a significant diplomatic presence in Cuba.
“We don’t have any definitive answers about the source or the cause of what we consider to be incidents,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Wednesday. She stressed that “we don’t know where this came from. We can’t blame anyone individual or country as of yet.”
She said that there are 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 under way.”
Cuban officials have denied directing any actions against the diplomats and have launched their own investigation.
In the meantime, China’s government says it would remain neutral if North Korea attacks the United States, but warned it would defend its Asian neighbor if the U.S. strikes first and tries to overthrow Kim Jong Un’s regime, Chinese state media said Friday.
“If the U.S. and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime, and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so,” reported the Global Times, a daily Chinese newspaper controlled by the Communist Party.
Meanwhile, other Asia-Pacific countries have come out in support of the United States in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack.
Japan’s defense minister, Itsunori Onodera, said this week that his nation’s military was ready to shoot down North Korean nuclear missiles, if necessary.
In Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described his country and the U.S. as being “joined at the hip,” the South China Morning Post reported.
“If there is an attack on the U.S., the Anzus Treaty would be invoked,” and Australia would aid the U.S., Turnbull told Australia’s 3AW radio Friday morning. Turnbull was referring to a collective security agreement between the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
The Chinese response to the heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea followed a number of hot-headed proclamations.
North Korea has threatened the U.S. with a nuclear attack on Guam, a U.S. territory south of Japan, after President Donald Trump said additional threats against the country or its allies would be met with “fire and fury.”
On Thursday, the president doubled-down on the remarks, saying his original comment possibly “wasn’t tough enough.”
In a separate appearance, Trump added: “Let’s see what [Kim Jong Un] does with Guam. He does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody has seen before – what will happen in North Korea.”
NBC with additional report from MSN