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U.S. confident in Olympics security despite N. Korea tensions

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WASHINGTON >> The United States said today it is not aware of any specific threat to the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea and is confident that American athletes, coaches and spectators will be safe, despite nuclear tensions with North Korea.

State Department officials overseeing security for the U.S. Olympic team said they had planned for all threat scenarios over nearly two years in preparation for the Pyeongchang Games that begin next week amid fears of further North Korean nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches. President Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested he might respond to such provocations militarily.

“We’re only 100 miles from North Korea and we have planned for all contingencies,” Diplomatic Security chief Michael Evanoff told reporters. His bureau has coordinated security between the U.S. Olympic Committee and the host country at every Olympics since the Summer Games in Montreal in 1976.

Evanoff and the official who will run the Olympic operation, Ricardo Colon, praised South Korean authorities for their preparations. They said roughly 100 Diplomatic Security agents would be deployed to Seoul and two Olympic cluster sites in Pyeongchang for the games and the ensuing Paralympics. That’s about the same as have been sent to previous Olympics. The U.S. Olympic delegation will number about 275 and an estimated 60,000 Americans are expected to attend some or all of the games, including a White House delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence.

North Korea is participating in the games, which begin on Feb. 9.

Although North Korea is sending athletes, it is planning a major event, likely a parade or rally, the day before the Olympics opening ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its military. A major show of military power could create anger in South Korea, which is hoping the games will be a symbol of peace and stability and has taken pains to include the North.

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Steve Goldstein said the U.S. would share those concerns but hoped that North Korea would embrace the Olympic spirit.

“While we would prefer that this parade not occur on Feb. 8, it is our hope, and I know the hope of South Korea, that the North Koreans who agreed to send people to the games to participate will join with all the nations of the world in celebrating the athletes,” said Goldstein. “Fundamentally, the Olympic games are about the athletes and nothing should be occurring that should interfere with that.”

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