White House: After Attacks, U.S. Open to Closer Olympics Security Cooperation With Russia

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Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

After two bombings in southern Russia in as many days raised concerns about security before the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi, American officials say they are open to expanding their security cooperation with the Russian Federation.

“The U.S. government has offered our full support to the Russian government in security preparations for the Sochi Olympic Games, and we would welcome the opportunity for closer cooperation for the safety of the athletes, spectators and other participants,” National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said on Monday. The U.S. government quickly condemned the pair of bombings, which killed at least 31 people, in Volgograd, a little more than 400 miles from Sochi, where the Winter Olympics will be held in February. President Barack Obama was briefed on the attacks during his vacation in Hawaii.

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said Monday that “in terms of security for Sochi, U.S. citizens planning to attend should remain alert regarding their personal security at all times.” American security officials have been working with Russian counterparts for months, particularly when it comes to the security of the American delegation.

“People should also be reminded that threats have been made against the Olympic Games and acts of terrorism, including bombings, continue to occur in Russia,” Harf said, adding she was unaware of any specific threats on Americans at the Games.

Security issues are one of the bright notes in the complex U.S.-Russia relationship. While the two countries don’t often see eye to eye on trade or regional issues, they have maintained close counterterrorism ties. Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have a strained personal relationship that has been on display at several recent international summits, with Obama saying in September that efforts to expand the relationship between the two countries had “hit a wall.” U.S. and Russian officials have tangled over issues as varied as the Syrian civil war and gay rights, with Obama appointing a low-level delegation to the Olympics, as well as several gay athletes, in protest of Russia’s anti-gay laws. “We always cooperate with the Russians on counterterrorism,” Harf said on Monday.

In 2011, Russian security and intelligence services encouraged American officials to investigate Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. After the attack, U.S. and Russian officials shared intelligence about Tsarnaev as part of the investigation, including details on Tsarnaev’s six-month visit to Dagestan in the North Caucasus, a region less than 400 miles from Sochi that is home to an Islamic insurgency.

The Associated Press reported that Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren told reporters on Monday that the military-to-military relationship between the two countries “is as good as it’s ever been.”