Conflict & Justice

France says it will stay home from next year's Olympics in South Korea if safety can't be assured

olympic-statue.jpg

A statue is pictured in front of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne, Dec. 10, 2013.

Credit:

Denis Balibouse/Reuters

France will not attend the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang if the current international stand-off over North Korea's atomic weapons program worsens and security cannot be guaranteed, the country's sports minister said Thursday.

"If this gets worse and we do not have our security assured, then our French team will stay here," Laura Flessel told RTL radio. "We will not put our team in danger."

Flessel is the first leading politician to publicly cast doubt over a country's participation at the Olympics, which run from February 9-25 in Pyeongchang. The city is just 50 miles from the heavily-fortified frontier with North Korea.

Her comments come just days after International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach downplayed security fears following the recent escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula.

"There is not even a hint that there is a threat for the security of the games in the context of the tensions between North Korea and some other countries," said Bach.

Bach added that the IOC had been in contact with the governments on the peninsula and said there was "no doubt being raised about the Olympic Winter Games in 2018."

The day before Bach spoke, an IOC spokesman insisted: "There is no plan B."

Flessel said she did not envisage the Olympics being canceled.

"Today we are not at this point and I tell you and I ask you especially not to worry about this team from France who have been working for more than four years," she added. "We are aware of the situation and with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs we have a close relationship, so we continue to watch, to analyze."

Tensions on the Korean peninsula are at a fever pitch after Pyongyang carried out its sixth nuclear test and fired two missiles over Japan in the space of less than a month.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump warned leaders gathered at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday that the United States may have to destroy North Korea if Kim Jong-un's nuclear-armed regime threatens its neighbors.

"The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea," he said.