White House says US will attend Winter Olympics in South Korea despite reports it may pull out over security fears

The White House has said that the US “looks forward to competing in the Winter Olympics,” amid confusion over whether Team USA will participate in the 2018 Games in South Korea.

“The US looks forward to participating in the Winter Olympics in South Korea,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted, just minutes after telling reporters that a final decision on the issue had yet to be made.

She added: “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 comments came shortly after Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, suggested America’s participation was in question due to rising tensions with North Korea.

“There’s an open question,” Ms Haley said, when asked whether the US’ attendance was a “done deal”. “I have not heard anything about that, but I do know in the talks that we have – whether it’s Jerusalem or North Korea – it’s about, how do we protect the US citizens in the area?”

Asked to clarify Ms Haley’s comments on Friday, Ms Sanders initially said that the final decision on attendance would be made closer to the Games.

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) quickly contested the comments, saying there had been no discussion of abstaining from the games.

“We have not had any discussions, either internally or with our government partners, about the possibility of not taking teams to the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games,” spokesperson Mark Jones said in a statement. “We plan on supporting two full delegations in Pyeongchang.”

The USOC is a government-charted but independently funded organisation that has the final say in whether the athletes attend. Scott Blackmun, the CEO of the USOC, said in September that the 2018 event would be “really no different than any other Games in terms of our preparations”.

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The US plans to send more than 200 athletes to the games, which will take place in the South Korean city of PyeongChang – just 50 miles from the demilitarised zone between the North and South.

Ms Haley told Fox & Friends that the Trump administration would “find out the best way” to protect American athletes if they attended.

“I think those are conversations we are going to have to have, but what have we always said?” she asked. “We don’t ever fear anything, we live our lives.”

She added: “ What we will do is, we will make sure that we’re taking every precaution possible to make sure that they’re safe and to know everything that’s going on around them.”

Tensions have spiked on the Korean Peninsula in recent months, as North Korea proceeded with missile testing at an unexpectedly fast pace. Last week, the country tested a missile which experts believe could reach much of the mainland United States.

The United States flew a B-1B supersonic bomber over South Korea on Wednesday, in a five-day military exercise that involved hundreds of warplanes. Pyongyang responded by declaring war on the peninsula an “established fact”.

“The remaining question now is: when will the war break out?” a spokesman said in a statement to North Korea’s official KCNA news agency.



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