White House seeks to end confusion over US participation in 2018 Winter Olympics

White House seeks to end confusion over US participation in 2018 Winter Olympics
Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in North Korea Nov. 29. Mary Altaffer/AP
Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in North Korea Nov. 29. Mary Altaffer/AP

The United States “looks forward to participating” in the 2018 winter Olympics in South Korea, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced in a tweet Thursday afternoon.

The announcement came shortly after she suggested in a press briefing that the America may not compete in Pyeongchang amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.

Questions about the U.S. participation in February’s winter games emerged after United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley said in a Fox News interview Wednesday that “there’s an open question” as to whether or not the U.S. would attend.

“I think it depends on what’s going on at the time in the country,” Haley said. “We have to watch this closely, and it’s changing by the day.”

Haley’s comments came a week after North Korea conducted another missile test and two months before the Olympics are set to begin Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang — not far from the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster said Saturday that the potential for war between the U.S. and North Korea is “increasing every day.”

Haley agreed on Wednesday, saying that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is “getting more dangerous.”

“I think if you look at this missile strike compared with the one before it, they certainly had advances,” Haley said.

Sanders offered conflicting statements about U.S. participation Thursday, first telling reporters that the administration was still undecided on the matter and later posting an “update” to Twitter in which she suggested America compete and that the White House was working to ensure the safety of the athletes.

The U.S. has not missed an Olympics since 1980, when it boycotted the summer games in Moscow at the behest of then-President Jimmy Carter over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Hostilities between Washington and Pyongyang have been escalating for months as Kim Jong Un continues to defy President Donald Trump’s demands that he halt his nuclear program.

Kim and Trump have traded numerous insults during their months-long brinkmanship. Trump has called Kim “short and fat” and said he may have no choice other than to “totally destroy” the country, while the North Korean regime has said the president has been “sentenced to death” and that his words have made an attack on the U.S. mainland “inevitable.”

North Korea’s most recent test at the end of November appeared to show it has the capacity to reach anywhere in the U.S. with a missile.

Haley said Wednesday that while the situation in the region has grown increasingly grave, the U.S. has been able to rally the “entire international community,” including China and Russia, to put pressure on the Kim regime.

“They’re feeling the squeeze, but they have made progress,” Haley said on Fox News.

The Olympics will run from February 9 to 25.

Pyeongchang, the host city, is about 50 miles from the DMZ.

The International Olympic Committee announced Tuesday that it was banning Russia from competing in the winter games over a massive doping conspiracy.

While Haley on Wednesday left open the possibility that the U.S. would not compete, she said the Pyeongchang games represented a “perfect opportunity” for American athletes to demonstrate that they would not give into “fear.”

“What have we always said? We don’t ever fear anything,” Haley said. “We live our lives. We use our freedom. We have that, and certainly that’s a perfect opportunity for all of them to go and do something they worked so hard for.”

December 7, 2017, 2:32 p.m. Eastern: This story has been updated.