Alaska senator: Don't boycott Olympics

Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichPerez creates advisory team for DNC transition The future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE (D-Alaska) wrote to President Obama on Friday to urge him not to boycott next year's Winter Olympics if Russia grants asylum to National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden.

Begich's letter comes after Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP sold Americans a bill of goods with tax reform law Republicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller Rand Paul under pressure as Pompeo hunts for votes MORE (R-S.C.) made the suggestion in an interview last week with The Hill. Such a move, Begich said, would only punish U.S. athletes while doing nothing to get Snowden back to the United States to face espionage charges. 

“These are issues best solved by frank diplomacy,” Begich wrote, “not a political gesture that would have the effect of further straining relations and damaging a symbol of international cooperation.”

Snowden has been stuck in the transit zone of the Moscow airport since last month after the State Department revoked his passport. He formally applied for asylum on July 16 and has requested temporary travel documents so he can leave the airport while his request is being considered.

Begich said the “good will generated through an international Olympic event is enormous,” and urged Obama not to spite the Russians. There is no evidence the White House is seriously considering a boycott of the Sochi games, which start in eight months.

“Alaska athletes and hundreds of other young Americans are training vigorously for Olympic trials later this year,” he wrote. “Their hard work should be rewarded through the opportunity to compete at the highest levels, [and they should] not [be] used as pawns in international incidents best resolved by professional diplomats and elected officials.”

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