The White House said yesterday that President Carter shares the view that the United States should not participate in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow if Soviet troops remain in Afghanistan beyond mid-February.
Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance said in an interview published in The New York Times yesterday that it was his view that the United States should not participate in Moscow if the current situation prevails in Afghanistan, and that as a practical matter a decision would have to be made by the middle of next month.
Asked about this later in the day: White House spokesman Jody Powell said that "concern about American participation in the Moscow Olympics is shared at the highest levels . . . I can confirm Secretary Vance's statement that the president shares his view on American participation in Moscow under existing circumstances . . . What Secretary Vance said makes a lot of sense to me."
Powell's statement was the latest in an escalating series in which administration officials have urged that the Moscow games either be boycotted or moved to an alternative site in reprisal for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But so far these calls have met with a cool response from European allies, and yesterday the president of the U.S. Olympic-Committee said that "the idea of a boycott is inappropriate and gauche."
Robert Kane, president of the USOC, said on NBC's "Today" show that "the United States Olympic Committee is wholeheartedly in favor of the games. [If] there's a problem with the site, it ought to be focused on that. A boycott is just not the right way to do it. It's disloyal to the organization we belong to -- the International Olympic Committee."
IOC president Lord Killanin yesterday reiterated his opinion that the games would go on, with or without American participation.
"We cannot change the venue and we cannot cancel the games," Killanin said in Dublin. "The IOC is legally bound to hold the games in Moscow, and that is where they will be held. There is no question of them being changed."
Kane, when asked about the logistical possibilities of shifting the Olympics to another site, said: "It just isn't feasible because there's no other city in the world which has the facilities to house and feed the athletes, except Moscow. There are several other cities which have recently held the games -- Montreal, Munich, Tokyo, Mexico City -- which have the sports facilities, but not [the accommodations] to house and feed 12,000 athletes and coaches . . . not in the summer of 1980."
Asked if it would be possible to ready an alternative site for the summer of 1981, Kane said "I would think that it would be feasible." This was the first acknowledgment by a high Olympic official of the possibility of postponing the games in order to relocate them.
Kane said that he approaches the views of those who oppose "games as usual" in Moscow while Soviet troops occupy Afghanistan, and that there are appropriate means of registering disapproval through the IOC, but that "a boycott is not the way to do it."
"You stay within the system, and work through the International Olympic Committee," he said. "We have voices in that. We want to be part of the decision-making. Once you boycott, you've lost all your options."
The USOC has been decided what course of action it will recommend to a meeting of the IOC scheduled for Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 10-12, just before the start of the Winter Olympics there, Kane said.
"But we're certainly going to talk to them, and I think the British Parliament . . . is using the right channel anyway, suggesting that the British Olympic Committee go through the International Olympic Committee and maybe convene a special session of the IOC," he said.
Meanwhile, the Carter administration continues to lay the groundwork for a U.S. led boycott of Western and Third World nations, even though the United States has received little encouragement so far from its allies.
Powell's statement on the president's behalf yesterday echoed similar "personal views" expressed last week by Vice President Mondale and First Lady Rosalynn Carter, and by the president himself at a background meeting with editors and reporters over the weekend, as well as by Vance.
State Department spokesman Hodding Carter said yesterday that the administration has not yet decided to call for an Olympic boycott, but that if it does, its "recommendation would be based on the thought that to go forward as if nothing is changed would be to say to the Soviet Union that the invasion carries no penalty."
State Department officials expressed confidence that if a decision to boycott is made by the U.S. government, athletes and USOC officials would comply, even though the committee is technically insulated form political influence by its charter.
Procedurally, a U.S. withdrawal from the games would have to be voted by a majority of the 86 voting members of the USOC's executive board, which is scheduled to meet in Colorado Springs, Colo., Jan. 25-27, and could be called into special session on short notice.
"The president of the United States has no authority to say that the U.S. team will not participate. However, he can bring significant influence to the members of the executive board, "one of the voting members, Harold O. Zimman of Lynn, Mass., told The Washington Post yesterday.
"A presidential request couldn't be ignored. I think there would certainly be some people who would say he's got no business interfering and that this is not proper from the point of view of the guarantees of independence from government influence that exist in the Olympic movement . . . I don't say he would get everybody's vote, but I think the majority would have to go along, reluctantly," added Zimman.
"The Olympics is still a sporting event. If President Carter decides we should pull out, he'll come up with the right reasons to sway the Olympic Committee. All he has to do is say the U.S. can't guarantee the safety of Americans in Moscow, and that will be it," Zimman continued.
"A call for a boycott is a big, big move. I think the president is aware of that. I don't think he wants to make it. I think maybe he's using it as a threat . . . But he's got to use every tactic he can, and I'm sure that the expediency of the moment may mean he has to do it, and if so, the weight of the public opinion and the media will be with him and the USOC will have to act accordingly," he said.
Apparently the administration believes that U.S. allies could be persuaded to go along with a call for a boycott or movement of the games, even though France has expressed opposition, West Germany is lukewarm, and Britain yesterday softened its earlier support. American athletes generally have opposed a boycott, but the administration thinks they will fall into line if it decides to play "hardball" at the Moscow games.