President Obama should consider boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia if the Cold War-era foe gives asylum to Edward Snowden, Sen. Lindsey Graham told The Hill on Tuesday.
“I would. I would just send the Russians the most unequivocal signal I could send them,” Graham (R-S.C.) said when asked about the possibility of a boycott.
“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.”
Graham is the first senator to suggest a link between the Olympics and Snowden, who has been holed up in a Moscow airport for weeks.
Other lawmakers also suggested Obama should respond sternly if Russia offers Snowden asylum, although they were more hesitant to suggest boycotting the Olympics.
“There’s many things we can do, but I think the experience of canceling the Olympics the last time around wasn’t very good,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a close ally of Graham’s.
He called instead for expanding the number of people covered by legislation sanctioning Russian human rights abusers and reversing Obama’s plans to scrap a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe.
The U.S. and Soviet Union both boycotted the Olympics in the 1980s during the Cold War.
Then-President Carter boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow in 1980 over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviets responded by leading a boycott of the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Russia is hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a city on Russia’s Black Sea coast near the border with Georgia. The games are set to begin Feb. 7.
The Olympics are seen as a showcase for Russia under Putin, who spoke about security preparations for the games in a Friday phone call with Obama in which the two leaders also discussed Snowden.
Tensions have been building in the already cool relationship between Russia and the Obama administration because of Snowden. The White House did not comment on Graham’s remarks.
At his press briefing Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that the administration’s “message has been clear and consistent with every government” on how they believed Snowden should be handled.
“Our position is that Mr. Snowden ought to be expelled and returned to the United States,” Carney said, saying that Snowden would be offered “every bit of due process” to which he was entitled and arguing that he was “not a human rights activist” or “dissident.”
“This should not be something that causes long-term problems for U.S.-Russia relations,” Carney said.
Carney said Tuesday there were no plans for Obama to boycott an upcoming trip to Russia.
“The president intends to travel to Russia in September for the G-20 summit,” Carney said Tuesday. Asked if that still included a bilateral summit in Moscow ahead of the summit, he said he didn’t have anything to add.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), said giving Snowden asylum would be a “direct affront” to the United States.
“Snowden still has access to very sensitive information, and so our national security is at risk as well,” he said. “If a country gives him asylum, then we have to look at our relationship [with] that country in a whole new way.”
Asked about a possible Olympics boycott, Menendez said he didn’t want to discuss any potential response before Snowden was granted asylum.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the author of the human rights bill named after deceased whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky, said Congress would act if Snowden gets asylum.
“I wouldn’t broadcast how we’ll respond,” he said. “But there will be some response.”
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on Menendez’s committee, said U.S.-Russian relations are already strained enough without his weighing in.
“I don’t want to heighten the acrimony,” he said.
The White House has been aggressive in pushing countries to stay away from Snowden. Vice President Biden personally called Ecuador’s leftist president, Rafael Correa, to ask that he reconsider his offer of asylum, and the White House said there would be consequences for China and Hong Kong after the island allowed Snowden to take a flight to Moscow last month.
— Published at 4:17 p.m. and last updated at 8:31 p.m.
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