News & Politics

Could North Korea Prevent the U.S. From Participating in the South Korea Winter Olympics?

On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested the United States might not participate in the Winter Olympics due to security concerns about North Korea. The day before, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley suggested it was an “open question” as to whether or not the U.S. would send athletes.

Both later walked back these comments, suggesting America would take part but that the White House was still concerned about safety at the Olympics, which will be held in February in Pyeongchang, a town 50 miles from the border between South Korea and the North.

When asked on Fox News Wednesday if it was safe enough for U.S. athletes to go to South Korea after North Korea’s repeated threats, Haley admitted, “There is an open question.” She added, “I have not heard anything about that. … We have to watch this closely and it’s changing by the day.”

On Thursday, Major Garrett, a CBS News White House correspondent, asked Sanders about Haley’s response. “The U.N. ambassador said it’s an open question whether the United States will participate in the Winter Olympics in South Korea. Is that now in doubt?” he asked.

“That wasn’t exactly what the Ambassador said,” Sanders responded. “No official decision has been made on that and we’ll keep you guys posted as those decisions are made. Look, I know the goal is to do so, but that will be a decision made closer to the time.”

Sanders clarified that the question would be an “inter-agency process, but ultimately the President would certainly weigh in.”

Later on Thursday, however, Sanders tweeted an update. “The U.S. looks forward to participating in the Winter Olympics in South Korea,” the press secretary clarified. “The protection of Americans is our top priority and we are engaged with the South Koreans and other partner nations to secure the venues.”

The U.S. mission to the UN gave a similar statement to The Washington Post. “The United States looks forward to participating in the Winter Olympics in South Korea next year,” the mission, which Haley heads, explained. “As always, the protection of American citizens overseas is our most important priority. We remain closely engaged with the South Koreans and other partner nations to secure the venues as we do every Olympics.”

While the recent comments suggested the U.S. teams would indeed take part in the Olympics, they did not erase all doubt on the issue. South Korea, as a developed nation, deserves to host the Winter Olympics. But North Korea’s recent missile tests and threats this past year suggest all nations should be worried about security for such an international event so close to the rogue regime.

In this context, the walk-backs prove less than reassuring.