White House walks back remarks that US athletes might not participate in 2018 Olympics

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders quickly walked back her remarks, after she suggested at a briefing Thursday that no decision had been made to send U.S. athletes to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Sanders tweeted that the U.S. looked forward to participating in the Olympics and was engaged in making sure that venues were safe minutes after her briefing ended. 

“The protection of Americans is our top priority and we are engaged with the South Koreans and other partner nations to secure the venues,” Sanders wrote on Twitter.

At the briefing, she said "no official decision has been made" on sending athletes to the games. She added that a decision would be made "closer to" the games. 

The 2018 Olympics start Feb. 9, and will take place in Pyeongchang, roughly 50 miles from the demilitarized zone with North Korea.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Wednesday that it’s still an “open question” as to whether the U.S. will send its athletes to the Winter Olympics, citing escalating tensions with North Korea.

“I think those are conversations we’re going to have to have. But what have we always said? We don’t ever fear anything. We live our lives,” Haley said on Fox News

White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster, meanwhile, earlier this week told Fox News that Americans should feel safe attending the games.

Haley said U.S. officials will monitor activity in the region closely and determine a way to ensure athletes are protected.

“What we will do is we’ll make sure that we’re taking every precaution possible to make sure that they’re safe, and to know everything that’s going on around them,” she said.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations later added to her comments with a similar statement as Sanders’s.

“The United States looks forward to participating in the Winter Olympics in South Korea next year. As always, the protection of American citizens overseas is our most important priority,” it said in a statement to The Washington Post. “We remain closely engaged with the South Koreans and other partner nations to secure the venues as we do every Olympics.”

Olympic and NBC officials on Thursday also responded to Haley’s comments.

U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Jones said it had “not had any discussions, either internally or with our government partners, about the possibility of not taking teams to the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.”

And a spokesperson for NBC, which will broadcast the Olympics, said the network is “in close contact with numerous security agencies, including the U.S. State Department, which continues to advise us that it is safe for Americans to travel to South Korea.”

Questions about Olympians' safety in South Korea have swirled in recent weeks, as North Korea continues to expand its nuclear weapons program.

Late last month, North Korea launched a new intercontinental ballistic missile, ending a two-month hiatus for missile tests from the isolated country.