Washington (CNN) - The head of the U.S. delegation to the upcoming Olympic Winter Games said the United States will work closely with host country Russia to ensure security, especially in light of the two recent terrorist bombings there.
“We want the Games to be safe, and we want it to be about the athletes,” said Janet Napolitano on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Napolitano recently left her post as secretary of Homeland Security and was chosen by President Barack Obama to lead the Olympic delegation.
The two bombings, more than 400 miles away from the Olympic host city of Sochi in Volgograd, have many on edge. Volgograd is a main hub for people traveling by train to Sochi.
Mitt Romney, who was the CEO of the 2002 Winter Olympics, weighed in on Sunday with both caution and optimism, noting the United States hosted the Winter Games just months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“There was concern during our Olympics during 2002, of course, because we had just witnessed the tragedy of 9/11,” the 2012 Republican presidential candidate said on “Fox News Sunday.” “People wondered if our games would be safe.”
Napolitano echoed the unfortunate historic connection between the Olympics and safety concerns.
“Security has always been an issue with the games, probably at least going back to Munich, so the questions are the logical ones: Have appropriate preparations been made? Do we have good liaisons between the United States and the International Olympic Committee and with the host nation?”
Romney said the intelligence work begins long before athletes and spectators arrive in the host city.
“In the case of a nation like Russia, they have the resources to do their very best to protect the people from that kind of an attack,” Romney said. “It’s really the intelligence work that goes into the Olympics the months and years before the games to make sure that you’ve identified people who might represent a threat.”
The games have also raised criticism of Russia’s handling of human rights in light of the country’s anti-gay laws, and Napolitano emphasized that the U.S. delegation signals America’s opposition.
“What we would like to do is demonstrate that the United States is a very free and open and tolerant society,” she stated, while downplaying the political controversy. “There have always been politics surrounding the games, particularly in the weeks in the immediate lead-up.”
Both Romney and Napolitano said that the main focus should remain on the athletes.
“After the games, everybody talks about the actual performances, which is actually the point,” Napolitano said.
“I’m confident that the games will be successful because the athletes are the heart of the game,” Romney said.