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IOC wants ‘Olympic Truce’ in Iraq

February 3, 1998 GMT

NAGANO, Japan (AP) _ Fearful that Nagano’s ``festival of peace″ could be overshadowed by conflict in the Gulf, Olympic leaders are lobbying Washington to refrain from military action against Iraq during the Winter Games.

The IOC appealed Tuesday for the United States to abide by a U.N. resolution that urges all nations to observe an ``Olympic Truce″ during the Feb. 7-22 Nagano Games.

``We can only pray″ the U.S. government complies with the truce, International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch said.

The United States is seeking support for a possible military strike because of Baghdad’s reluctance to allow United Nations inspectors full access to potential weapons sites.

``We don’t see any reason why (the United States) would not abide by the principles they have adhered to,″ IOC director general Francois Carrard said. ``We hope the truce and peace can prevail.″

In Washington, the White House suggested Monday that the Olympics would not be a factor in a decision on military action.

White House spokesman Mike McCurry said the United States was still pursuing diplomatic options, although time ``is running out.″

``Not to my knowledge is any of the decision-making or thinking that the president and his senior policy leaders are undertaking affected by sporting events,″ he said.

But IOC officials played down the White House statement.

Anita DeFrantz, American vice president of the IOC, said McCurry ``is a spokesman for the White House, but not necessarily the White House.″

DeFrantz indicated she was pursuing diplomatic channels in Washington.

``Rest assured the notion of the truce is well-known,″ she said. ``The U.S. government knows it was a part of the Olympic truce.″

The United States was among the 178 nations that signed the non-binding U.N. general assembly resolution on Nov. 25. The resolution, based on a tradition dating to the ancient games in Greece, calls on member states to stop hostilities while the Olympics are under way.

Iraq has no delegation at the Olympics.

The IOC stressed it was not seeking to interfere in world politics.

``The U.S. government has to do what it has to do,″ DeFrantz said.

``We are not involved in engaging in politics,″ Carrard said. ``The United States of America takes whatever decision they feel appropriate.″

Carrard acknowledged the Olympic truce was a ``highly symbolic″ initiative. Three separate truce resolutions have been adopted by the U.N. since 1993.

``With the endorsement of successive resolutions, there is hope that maybe the Olympic Truce can become more of a reality,″ he said.

If an attack on Iraq takes place, it would not spell the end of the Nagano Games, Carrard said.

``It would be sad, but the agenda of the games is the agenda of the games,″ he said. ``What can we do? We are not politicians. We are not making decisions. We are not engaged at war.″

Nagano organizers describe their games as a ``festival of world peace and friendship.″ They are particularly concerned by the possibility they would be clouded by an American strike on Iraq.

``We, of course, hope that the Olympic Games can proceed in a peaceful atmosphere,″ organizing committee president Eishiro Saito said. ``We do believe that such unfortunate events could be avoided during the games.″

Dick Schultz, executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said that if fighting begins, he would consider asking U.S. armed forces in Japan to help provide security for the American team.

``If we felt it was necessary, we’d request the military, as long as it was OK with NAOC, to help with security, especially around the (Olympic) village,″ Schultz said.

Any request for the U.S. military to be involved in any security for the games would be a very sensitive issue for the Japanese.

The USOC chief said he had talked with his committee’s security officials to make sure they were prepared to react quickly.

``We’d be vulnerable here,″ Schultz said. ``They are watching the situation very carefully. ... We’ll do anything we need to do to protect our athletes.″