WASHINGTON -- The Cuban government told U.S. diplomats yesterday that it does not plan to extradite Robert L. Vesco to the United States even though Cuba hinted after arresting him in Havana two weeks ago that it would hand him over, administration officials said yesterday.
State Department officials said they were disappointed by the decision, which came after the Clinton administration told Cuban officials that it wanted Mr. Vesco returned so that he could be tried on embezzlement and narcotics charges.
"The Cubans are telling us, 'no deal,' " one administration official said.
Many U.S. diplomats were surprised by Cuba's decision to arrest Mr. Vesco on espionage charges after he had lived a life of luxury in Cuba for a dozen years. Several officials suggested that Cuba had hinted that it might extradite Mr. Vesco as a way to develop goodwill with the United States at a time when it is eager to have the 32-year-old economic embargo eased.
But some officials said they always doubted Cuba would turn over Mr. Vesco, a financier who fled the United States in the early 1970s during an embezzlement investigation, since he is reputed to have information linking many Cuban officials to criminal activity.
Joseph Sullivan, head of the American Interests Section in Havana, which serves as a liaison office between the Cuban and U.S. governments, met with Cuban officials late yesterday in what U.S. officials called a last-ditch effort to persuade Cuba to extradite Mr. Vesco.
CNN reported yesterday that the Cuban president, Fidel Castro, said in a private dinner Sunday with the network's executives and journalists that it would be "immoral" to extradite Mr. Vesco and make him a "pawn of U.S.-Cuba relations." Mr. Castro was quoted as saying Cuba would conduct its own investigation.
U.S. diplomats say Mr. Vesco must have done something to run afoul of Mr. Castro or his brother, Raul, the head of the Cuban military, because for years Mr. Vesco had been free to conduct his dealings with their unofficial blessing.
Rafael Dausa, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Mr. Vesco has been charged with being "a provocateur or agent for foreign special services," although he refused to specify which country's special services Mr. Vesco was believed to be serving.
U.S. diplomats, intelligence experts and law enforcement officials have said that Mr. Vesco has been heavily involved in drug trafficking, money laundering and smuggling American goods into Cuba.