Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are running high this week as President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have traded barbs about the Asian nation’s nuclear capabilities. On Tuesday in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly, Trump called Kim “Rocket Man” and said he was leading a “depraved regime.” Kim shot back on Thursday, calling Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” and describing his U.N. speech as “unprecedented rude nonsense.” Trump responded Friday by saying Kim is a “madman” whose regime will be “tested like never before.”
Such sabre-rattling about nuclear weapons hardly is ideal under any circumstances, but with the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, less than five months away, the most recent round of brinkmanship has led at least one nation — France — to consider whether attending the Games is even a good idea.
On Thursday, French Sports Minister Laura Flessel said in a radio interview that if “our security cannot be assured, the French Olympics team will stay at home.”
PyeongChang is located just 50 miles from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea and only 100 miles to the east of two North Korean military bases where a number of missile tests have been conducted in recent years. The two nations technically are still at war and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions already were well evident in 2011 when the International Olympic Committee awarded PyeongChang the 2018 Games, so the IOC knew the risks involved with selecting such a location. But IOC President Thomas Bach said last week that he was confident the Olympics would go on as scheduled.
For now, it appears as if France is alone in publicly sharing the level of its concerns. Reuters contacted Olympic officials from four countries — the United States, Japan, Canada and Australia — in the wake of Flessel’s comments, and none said it was considering such a drastic move.
“Each host city presents a unique challenge from a security perspective, and, as is always the case, we are working with the organizers, the U.S. State Department and the relevant law enforcement agencies to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky told Reuters.
Flessel herself said France isn’t on the verge of a decision — “we’re not there yet,” she said — but the fact that she publicly aired her nation’s worries about the situation is a sign that the events of this week are reverberating well beyond the diplomatic sphere.
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