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Sen. Lankford On Closing Havana Embassy


There are moves afoot to close the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba - this after embassy staff reported mysterious sonic attacks leading, in some cases, to hearing loss and mild brain injury. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked about these attacks on CBS's "Face The Nation." He said he is weighing whether to shut the embassy.


REX TILLERSON: We have it under evaluation. 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.

KELLY: Senator James Lankford is one of five Republican senators who have written to Tillerson, urging him to remind Cuba it must take action to protect American diplomats and, otherwise, close the U.S. embassy in Havana. Senator Lankford joins us now.

Good morning, Senator.

JAMES LANKFORD: Good morning to you.

KELLY: Let me lay out what we're talking about. We - embassy staff complaining of headaches, of nausea, of dizziness, of hearing loss - they say this was brought on by these blaring, grinding noises. What do you think is going on?

LANKFORD: Well, we're not sure what's going on right now. But I would tell you, every country where we have an embassy, the country that hosts us is the - has the first responsibility for security for the personnel of that embassy and for the embassy itself. And then we provide the second layer of security for all of our personnel.

We have around 30 individuals that - they've had profound hearing loss, or damage or these very unusual headaches. They're very targeted, and they're directly at our personnel there. This is not just some random sickness. This is something that's actually happening to our personnel. And I'd like to make sure that our personnel stay safe and secure. I know the secretary of state would like the same.

KELLY: Have you heard back from Tillerson?

LANKFORD: We have not yet, other than he's notified us that he is dealing with this, that he's working through the process. They're going to try to identify what that process would be, and then he and I will be speaking soon.

KELLY: Well, what does Cuba say? Are they cooperating with this investigation?

LANKFORD: So, so far, our understanding is, Cuba is not. They're denying that anything is happening, that anything is going on. It's very clear and very specific for our personnel that are there that they are experiencing some sort of deliberate attack.

KELLY: I want to note that the embassy - the U.S. embassy in Havana was just reopened two years ago. I mean, if the diplomats were brought home, if the embassy shuts down again, what is the danger of boomeranging U.S.-Cuban relations right back to some kind of Cold-War style deep freeze?

LANKFORD: Well, the difficulty is, it's clear that Cuba still thinks it is a Cold-War deep freeze. When we open an embassy in a location, and in that country, our personnel have been experiencing very targeted attacks, there is reason for us to be able to pause to, No. 1, protect our personnel. We clearly don't want to have our personnel in harm's way.

And the second one is, we go into countries where we are welcome to go into a country. And the country is not welcoming that, not recognizing basic sovereignty for us in that location, then there will be an issue. So there - this is no angst against Cuba or the Cuban people. This is protecting our own personnel and trying to establish, if we're going to have ongoing communication, that has to be two-way.

KELLY: I want to note that there've been reports that Canadian diplomats may be experiencing something similar. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have gone to Havana to investigate. The FBI has been there to investigate. Do you have any visibility into what they are finding?

LANKFORD: I have not, at this point. I'm still waiting for those reports, and as I said before, that I'll be visiting with Secretary Tillerson soon.

KELLY: All right, let me turn you very quickly to one other issue. This is news back home - U.S. health care - the latest proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This is the Graham-Cassidy bill. Do you support it?

LANKFORD: I do support it, actually. This is a unique proposal that asks the question, could States take better care of their people? Do states have a inherent belief in the neighbors that they have around them, that they can help provide care? My state had already put into place something called Insure Oklahoma before the Affordable Care Act. That was then dismantled. There are methods that are out there, and I think we need to honor those.

KELLY: Yes or no, do you think it has a shot of passing?

LANKFORD: I do think it has a shot, but we'll see once we have 50 votes how this works.

KELLY: Senator Lankford, thanks for taking the time this morning.

LANKFORD: Thank you.

KELLY: Oklahoma Republican James Lankford. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.