U.S. to ensure citizens' evacuation from Olympics if needed: Hagel

Fri Jan 24, 2014 6:56pm EST
 
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By Phil Stewart and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will have "appropriate arrangements" with Russia to ensure the evacuation of Americans from the Sochi Winter Olympics, if necessary, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Friday, amid militant threats to attack the Games.

Russian security forces are hunting a woman suspected of planning a suicide bombing and of being in Sochi already and U.S. officials acknowledged on Friday an increase in reported threats ahead of the Games.

The U.S. military has said two ships will be deployed to the Black Sea during the Winter Olympics and the Pentagon has also made clear it is willing to assist Russia, if needed.

Still, it is far from clear that Russia would allow U.S. military assets into its territory following a security incident, and Moscow has made no request for U.S. security assistance so far.

Asked about the matter at a Pentagon news conference, Hagel said only that proper arrangements would be in place, without saying specifically who might do the evacuating.

"If we need to extract our citizens, we will have appropriate arrangements with the Russians to do this," Hagel said.

Senior Obama administration officials later clarified that although the U.S. military can be an option for evacuations, U.S. citizens can be evacuated on commercial or even charter flights and that Russia had primary responsibility to respond to and cope with any incident during the Games.

The officials, speaking in a conference call with reporters, also said the United States did not yet have a firm evacuation plan for Americans, although it could put one together quickly if needed.   Continued...

 
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) welcomes French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian before their meeting at the Pentagon in Washington, January 24, 2014. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas