The US envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said Wednesday that it was an “open question” whether US athletes would be able to attend the Olympics in South Korea in February given the tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The Winter Games are to be held Feb. 9-25 in Pyeongchang, a city about 50 miles from the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea.
Asked on Fox News if athletes from the United States would be able to compete, Haley said: “There’s an open question. 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?”
Tensions have been heating up on the Korean Peninsula after a two-month lull, with North Korea launching a missile last week that experts said showed the capability of hitting much of the continental United States.
Then, on Monday, the United States began military drills with South Korea that were to include simulated strikes on the North’s nuclear and missile sites, leading Pyongyang to accuse Washington of pushing the peninsula “to the brink of nuclear war.”
Addressing the strained relations and their impact on the Olympics, Haley said the Trump administration would try to “find out the best way” to protect US athletes participating in the games.
“I think those are conversations we are going to have to have, but what have we always said? We don’t ever fear anything; we live our lives,” Haley said. “What we will do is 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.”
However, Mark Jones, a spokesman for the US Olympic Committee, said there had been no discussion of US athletes’ staying away.
“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,” he said in a statement. “We plan on supporting two full delegations in Pyeongchang.”
South Korea has invited the North to participate in the games. But the military drills with the United States and the recent defection of a North Korean soldier to the South have reignited tensions and undercut hopes for a thaw in time for the Olympics.
As part of the military exercises, the United States flew two B-1B heavy bombers, the largest US strike aircraft, over South Korea on Thursday.