WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department voiced displeasure on Wednesday over North Korean plans to stage a military parade on the eve of the Winter Olympics, but it assured Americans going to the games that South Korea’s security plan considered all contingencies.
“Any citizen of the United States traveling to the 2018 Winter Games can rest assured that the Republic of Korea has a comprehensive security system in place and that the United States government is supporting our ally in that regard,” Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein told a briefing.
The Winter Games begin on Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, at a time of high tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.
After talks earlier this year aimed at defusing tensions, North and South Korea agreed to field a unified women’s ice hockey team and to march their athletes under one flag at the opening ceremony.
Despite its decision to send athletes, North Korea announced it would celebrate the founding of its military on Feb. 8, an event generally marked with a large military parade displaying weapons like missile launchers.
“While we would prefer that this parade not occur on Feb. 8, it is our hope, and I know the hope of South Korea, that the North Koreans ... will join with all the nations of the world in celebrating the athletes,” Goldstein said.
U.S. officials said the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service was the lead U.S. agency helping South Korean authorities with security, a role it has undertaken at every Olympics since the 1976 Montreal games.
Richard Colon, a Diplomatic Security official, said the service would have about 100 personnel in South Korea, working both from the U.S. Embassy and the Olympics venues. They are assisting some 275 athletes and as many as 60,000 U.S. citizens.
Colon and other officials said organizing security for the South Korea games was no different than that of other Olympics, despite the tensions with Pyongyang.
The security officials said they were unaware of any specific threats and were confident that the South Koreans can provide a secure Olympics. They noted Seoul hosted the 2014 Asian games and the 2002 FIFA world cup.
“We have planned for all contingencies, and when I say all contingencies, you think about it, I mean we’re only less than a hundred miles (200 km) from North Korea,” said Michael Evanoff, the assistant secretary for diplomatic security. “So we’ve planned for all contingencies.”
Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by David Gregorio