White House: Graham suggestion of Olympic boycott a bad idea

July 17, 2013 at 5:30 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 17 (UPI) -- A White House spokesman conceded Wednesday, after repeated questioning by reporters, a U.S. boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia is a bad idea.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., had suggested the United States should boycott the Games if Russia grants asylum to Edward Snowden, a former national security contractor charged with espionage in the United States for leaking information about the National Security Agency's monitoring of U.S. phone calls and international Internet usage.

White House press secretary Jay Carney repeatedly ducked reporters' questions, but was finally pinned down late in a news conference.

"This is -- a lawmaker put it out there. We're not even -- we're not focused on that," Carney said. "We're focused on working with the Russians to bring about the return of Mr. Snowden to the United States. And we agree with President [Vladimir] Putin that we do not want this issue to negatively affect our relationship with Russia, which is broad and important."

"So a boycott is a bad idea, right?" a reporter asked.

"Yes," Carney said. "But it's not one that is an issue right now because we're engaged with the Russians and other governments in helping bring about a positive resolution to this matter."

Earlier Wednesday, U.S. Olympic officials said a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics over Snowden would only harm U.S. athletes.

Also Wednesday, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Graham is "dead wrong" for proposing a U.S. boycott.

"Listen, I love Senator Graham," Boehner told reporters in Washington Wednesday, Yahoo! News said. "We've been close friends for 20 years. But I think he's dead wrong. Why would we want to punish U.S. athletes who have been training for three years to compete in the Olympics over a traitor who can't find a place to call home?"

U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky said in a statement the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow showed "boycotts do not work," The Hill newspaper reported.

"Our boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games did not contribute to a successful resolution of the underlying conflict," Sandusky said. "It did, however, deprive hundreds of American athletes, all whom had completely dedicated themselves to representing our nation at the Olympic Games, of the opportunity of a lifetime."

Graham said President Barack Obama should have the United States stay out of the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, if the Russian government grants Snowden's request for temporary asylum, The Hill reported.

"I would just send the Russians the most unequivocal signal I could send them," Graham said.

"It might help, because what they're doing is outrageous," he said. "We certainly haven't reset our relationship with Russia in a positive way. At the end of the day, if they grant this guy asylum it's a breach of the rule of law as we know it and is a slap in the face to the United States."

Snowden, who has been in a Moscow airport for weeks, has said he will apply for asylum in Russia.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he does not think a boycott of the Olympics would be in the best interest of the country.

"There's many things we can do, but I think the experience of canceling the Olympics the last time around wasn't very good," McCain said, referring to the Cold War-era boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.

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