US upholds Cuba embargo in UN resolution vote

US upholds Cuba embargo in UN resolution vote
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The United States defended its decades-old embargo against Cuba on Wednesday, voting against a United Nations resolution condemning the restrictions. 

The no vote from U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyTrump administration withholds million from UN agency for Palestinians Trump’s first year in office was the year of the woman Palestinian president blasts Trump in defiant speech MORE marked an about-face from a year before, when the U.S. abstained from a vote for the first time in 25 years. 

Despite the U.S. vote, the resolution condemning the ongoing economic embargo on Cuba passed overwhelmingly in the U.N. General Assembly, 191-2. Only the U.S. and Israel voted against the measure.

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The move is the latest sign of worsening relations between the U.S. and Cuba as President Trump moves away from former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ Democrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration Trump’s first year in office was the year of the woman MORE's attempts to renew relations with Cuba.

Tensions have risen in recent months amid a series of ongoing "health attacks" on American personnel in the country's embassy in Havana that have so far affected at least 24 people.

Cuba has denied responsibility for the attacks, and U.S. investigators looking into the matter have yet to determine what caused the Americans to experience symptoms ranging from permanent hearing loss to trouble sleeping to nausea. 

But while those attacks have fueled distrust between Washington and Havana, U.S. officials cast the decision to oppose the U.N. resolution on Wednesday as a way to clamp down on the Cuban government.

"I think this administration would regard that for far too long Cuba has engaged in human rights abuses — human rights abuses that perhaps past administrations have turned and looked the other way, and this administration continues to call upon Cuba to improve," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Tuesday after announcing that Haley would vote against the resolution.

Before casting the no vote on Wednesday, Haley also said that the U.S. would continue to oppose the resolution “as long as the Cuban people continue to be deprived of their human rights and fundamental freedoms,” according to The Associated Press.

The U.S. decision to stand by the more than five-decade-old embargo has long been condemned by other countries, including U.S. allies, and the Cuban government has long pinned economic woes in the country on the U.S. penalties.

The Obama administration's decision last year to abstain from the U.N. vote instead of opposing it was seen as a signal of warming relations between the Cold War foes. It came after the U.S. and Cuba moved to restore diplomatic relations in 2015.

But Trump announced earlier this year that he would cancel his predecessors "one-sided deal" with Cuba, moving to once again tighten restrictions on Americans wishing to travel to or do business on the island. The goal, he said, was to spur political change in Cuba and punish the communist government for human rights abuses.

Tensions flared again in September after Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonDecline in US travel spurs business push for visitors Overnight Defense: GOP chair blames Dems for defense budget holdup | FDA, Pentagon to speed approval of battlefield drugs | Mattis calls North Korea situation 'sobering' Mattis: North Korea situation 'sobering' MORE ordered the withdrawal of roughly 60 percent of U.S. personnel from the embassy in Havana in response to the health attacks. Days later, 15 Cuban diplomats were expelled from the country's embassy in Washington.