Cuba accused the Bush administration yesterday of timing the expulsion of four of its diplomats -- two in Washington and two at the United Nations -- to influence this week's U.S. elections, and said it would not be deterred from efforts to expand its economic and cultural relations with nongovernmental Americans.

In its first public response to the expulsions announced early this week, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said there was "no evidence whatsoever" that the diplomats had engaged in intelligence activities. Gustavo Machin Gomez and Oscar Redondo Toledo, both first secretaries at the Cuban Interests Section here, were involved, respectively, in promoting an expansion of economic ties between the two countries and countering "false [U.S.] allegations" about Cuba's alleged involvement in terrorism and biological weapons, the statement said.

Francisco Gonzalez Garcia and Carlos Augusto Suanes Flexas, both at Cuba's U.N. mission in New York, worked on decolonization and peacekeeping issues. Charges they were engaged in unspecified activities "harmful" to U.S. interests were "ludicrous," the statement said.

The statement accused Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich, a Cuban American long active in exile efforts to tighten the U.S. embargo against Cuba, of being the "mastermind" behind "these . . . irrational fabrications" against Havana.

Cuba said it would respond to the expulsions "at the appropriate time and with the political and diplomatic tools at its disposal."

-- Karen DeYoung