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July 17th, 2013
05:44 PM ET

Sen. Graham: Boycotting Olympics, G20 summit would get Putin's attention

Sen. Lindsey Graham is suggesting that the United States boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The South Carolina Republican said on Tuesday it could be a consideration if Russian President Vladimir Putin allows admitted U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden to remain in his country and continues supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

On Wednesday, Graham told CNN the U.S. should up its game in order to get Russia's attention.

"I don't want to boycott the Olympics. I love the Olympics," Graham said in an interview on CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper.”

"But at the end of the day, if talking about sports would focus the nation's attention on Russia, who is up to no good all over the planet, then I welcome this discussion," said Graham.

Indeed, the South Carolina Republican does not want to wait until 2014 to get Putin's attention, saying President Barack Obama and the United States could send a pointed message as early as September.

"President Obama, should you go to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the G-20 summit if they give Snowden asylum and they don't change their policy toward Syria and continue to help Iran? Should you go? My advice to you is I wouldn't go to St. Petersburg, I would ask for a change of venue," Graham said.

Republican colleagues disagree with Graham's position on boycotting the Sochi Olympics.

Speaker of the House John Boehner said Wednesday that he and Graham have been “close friends” for two decades.

“But I think he's dead wrong. Listen, why would we want to punish U.S. athletes who have been training for three years to compete in the Olympics over a traitor who can't find a place to call home?" Boehner said.

The U.S. Olympic Committee also weighed in.

“While we acknowledge the seriousness of the issues at hand, we strongly oppose the notion that a boycott of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is in our country's best interests," it said in a statement.

But Graham said that if in 2014 Moscow's policies have led to geopolitical instability, then the United States should revisit its position on participating in the winter games.

"If they were continuing to support Assad and 200,000 Syrians had been killed, the king of Jordan had been toppled because of the civil war in Syria, Iraq is falling apart, the arms that the Russians are selling Assad fall into Hezbollah's hands to be used against Iran, they give Snowden asylum and they help the Iranians march toward a nuclear weapon? Would I accept an invitation sent by Putin? No," said Graham.

Putin addressed some of Graham's concerns regarding Snowden on Wednesday, warning Snowden against making any further leaks.

"Bilateral relations, in my opinion, are far more important than squabbles about the activists of the secret services.  We warned Mr. Snowden that any action by him that could cause damage to Russian-American relations is unacceptable for us," Putin said.

Graham said he judges Putin by his actions.

"If he really wanted to change relationships between us and the Russia, send Snowden back.  That's the right thing to do, to stand trial for the crimes he's been accused of," Graham said.

"If he really wants to be a constructive partner in the world at a time it would matter, stop helping Assad butcher his own people.  Uh, stop selling weapons to Assad that could fall into Hezbollah's hands," said Graham.

The Obama administration has pledged more military-related assistance to Syrian rebels.

U.S. lawmakers expressed frustration with the administration handling of arms shipments to the Syrian rebels amid reports military aid has been held up by key members of Congress.

"If Congress is holding it up, I want to know who is," said Graham.  "I was in the Mideast about two weeks ago.  There's no activity I can see on the ground where we're flowing arms in to the rebels. Could some of these arms fall into the wrong hands?” he asked.

“Yes, that's possible. But at the end of the day, the military balance of power has to change. Assad is winning.  Homs is about to fall. Our president has said Assad must go. President Obama is right," he said.


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