'I'd be intentionally putting them back in harm's way. Why in the world would I do that when I have no means whatsoever to protect them?' Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press. "I will push back on anybody who wants to force me to do that."
"I still believe that the Cuban government, someone within the Cuban government can bring this to an end," Tillerson said.
Washington has not pointed the finger directly at the Cuban government for the illnesses but said Havana could have worked to stop them. Cuba denies a role, or any knowledge of what took place, and has said it is investigating.
The comments followed a new interim report by the FBI that was the result of months of investigation into what officials originally termed 'sonic attacks' on US diplomatic staff as well as CIA operatives working under diplomatic cover on the island. The bureau found no evidence that sound waves could have been responsible for the spate of illnesses that included hearing loss and vision problems, according to the AP, which viewed the unpublished report.
The FBI is expected to continue its investigation.
One possible explanation floated by State Department officials testifying on Capitol Hill Tuesday is a virus deliberately used to target American staffers. Todd Brown, the Assistant Director for the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service, told lawmakers that he has 'seen the range of what possibly could have taken place' besides acoustic attacks but did not offer evidence to support theories of a possible viral deployment.
Washington has yet to make public any evidence that would corroborate the attacks, and Cuba has doubted any attack took place.
But Tillerson told the AP he is 'not sure' the assumed attacks have ended. He is required by law to form a board that will determine accountability for the mysterious illnesses.