U.S. Olympians urged to keep low profile

AFP-JIJI

The U.S. Olympic Committee has advised athletes taking part in the upcoming Sochi Games to avoid wearing their uniforms or Team USA logos outside Olympic venues, the State Department said Friday.

The warning came amid growing concerns in Washington about security at the games and as Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said the U.S. will work with Russian authorities on “appropriate arrangements” if an emergency requires evacuating Americans from Sochi.

On the advice of the State Department, the U.S. Olympic Committee told athletes in a memo not to call attention to their nationality outside the Olympic Village as a safety precaution, officials said.

“I think it is just common sense that perhaps if you are an American Olympic athlete, perhaps you don’t want to advertise that so much, far outside of the venues,” a senior administration official told reporters.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that “we are in very close contact with the U.S. Olympic Committee on issues related to security.”

But she added that Russia is not a unique case and that the U.S. government often provides similar advice at “big international events.”

The White House has signaled concern over Russia’s security preparations for next month’s Winter Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, with officials privately complaining about Moscow’s reluctance to share intelligence on terrorist threats.

The U.S. has repeatedly offered to provide help to Russia to ensure security for the event, a question that came up in a telephone conversation between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.

But Hagel, speaking at a news conference after talks with his French counterpart, said Russia has not taken up the U.S. offer so far: “Right now, there has been no request from the Russian government.”

The Pentagon has announced it is deploying two warships to the Black Sea as a precaution in case of a terrorist attack.

When asked if the U.S. military has contingency plans in place to evacuate Americans in such an event, Hagel said: “If we need to extract our citizens, we will have appropriate arrangements with the Russians to do this.”

U.S. officials later said that a potential evacuation might not require a role for the military because commercial planes might be used. And in any emergency, American authorities would need to work closely with the Russian government, officials said.

“First and foremost, Russia has the responsibility in responding to and coping with situations that might affect the safety, security and the presence of their guests,” a senior administration official said.

“All the American citizens there are their guests,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The U.S. government will work with the Russian government on the various options should they need to be implemented.”