S. Korea gets flexible with N. Korea sanctions for Olympics

 
 
Updated 2/7/2018 10:23 PM
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  • FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, file photo, North Korea's Mangyongbong-92, right, carrying North Korea's members of art troupe is escorted as it approaches to Mukho Port in Donghae, South Korea. From smartphones to boat fuel, South Korea is wrestling how to balance international sanctions on North Korea with its desire to show the Olympic spirit as it welcomes hundreds of North Koreans to the country for the Winter Olympics.

    FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, file photo, North Korea's Mangyongbong-92, right, carrying North Korea's members of art troupe is escorted as it approaches to Mukho Port in Donghae, South Korea. From smartphones to boat fuel, South Korea is wrestling how to balance international sanctions on North Korea with its desire to show the Olympic spirit as it welcomes hundreds of North Koreans to the country for the Winter Olympics. Associated Press

  • FILE - This image provided by Samsung shows a Galaxy Note 8 Olympic Games phone. Samsung Electronics donated the limited edition phones for athletes and officials at the International Olympic Committee so that they can document every moment and share their memories with the world. The Winter Olympic Games organizer is in limbo whether handing out the device to North Koreans and Iranians would violate global sanctions. (Samsung via AP, File)

    FILE - This image provided by Samsung shows a Galaxy Note 8 Olympic Games phone. Samsung Electronics donated the limited edition phones for athletes and officials at the International Olympic Committee so that they can document every moment and share their memories with the world. The Winter Olympic Games organizer is in limbo whether handing out the device to North Koreans and Iranians would violate global sanctions. (Samsung via AP, File) Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018 file photo, the chartered flight carrying South Korean skiers and officials, takes off for North Korea at Yangyang International Airport in Yangyang, South Korea. From smartphones to boat fuel, South Korea is wrestling how to balance international sanctions on North Korea with its desire to show the Olympic spirit as it welcomes hundreds of North Koreans to the country for the Winter Olympics. (Kim Ju-sung/Yonhap via AP)

    FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018 file photo, the chartered flight carrying South Korean skiers and officials, takes off for North Korea at Yangyang International Airport in Yangyang, South Korea. From smartphones to boat fuel, South Korea is wrestling how to balance international sanctions on North Korea with its desire to show the Olympic spirit as it welcomes hundreds of North Koreans to the country for the Winter Olympics. (Kim Ju-sung/Yonhap via AP) Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea -- From smartphones to ship fuel, South Korea is wrestling how to balance international sanctions on North Korea with its desire to show the Olympic spirit as it welcomes hundreds of North Koreans for the Winter Games.

Spearheaded by the U.S., the U.N. has been imposing tougher sanctions designed to punish North Korea's economy in an effort to rein in its nuclear program. But South Korea has been flexible with these rules as it accommodates the North Koreans to the Pyeongchang Games.

South Korea sent a chartered plane to bring North Korean skiers. It allowed North Korea to use a 9,700-ton ferry to transport more than 100 artists to perform at the Olympics and says it's considering whether to accept the North's request to supply fuel for the ship.

South Korea says the decisions were inevitable for the success of the games, which it sees as an opportunity to revive meaningful communication with the North after an extended period of animosity and diplomatic stalemate. But critics say South Korea is playing into the hands of North Korea as it tries to use the Olympics to poke holes in sanctions.

A look at some of the concessions South Korea has made as it greets the North for the Olympics:

THE PLANE

The Koreas agreed to open their conciliatory gestures over the Pyeongchang Games with joint practices and friendly competitions between their skiers at North Korea's Masik winter resort.

But the Jan. 31 trip wasn't official until less than two hours before the chartered Asiana Airlines flight carrying the South Korean skiers took off for the North's Kalma Airport.

Seoul needed until the last minute to persuade Washington to consider the flight an exception to sanctions announced by President Donald Trump's administration in September that include banning vessels and aircraft that have visited North Korea from traveling to the United States within 180 days.

The South Koreans were accompanied by a 32-member North Korean delegation, including 10 athletes invited to participate for the Olympics, on their return flight the next day.

It was the first direct South Korean flight to North Korea since 2015, when South Korean labor unionists flew to Pyongyang for a goodwill soccer match.

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THE FERRY

South Korea accepting North Korea's offer to send its artists to the games by sea has triggered debate in the South, where conservatives saw the move as a sure-fire sign that the North is trying to use the Olympics to ease pressure against the country. The Mangyongbong-92 arrived at an eastern South Korean port Tuesday afternoon with 114 members of an art troupe that will perform in Gangneung on Thursday and Seoul on Feb. 11.

To allow the ship to travel to the South, Seoul treated it as an exception to sanctions. Critics say Seoul is sending the wrong message to North Korea and also the international community.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said Wednesday that the government is reviewing whether to meet North Korea's request to provide fuel to the ferry.

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THE PHONES

The Pyeongchang Organizing Committee is refraining for now from giving out a premium smartphone to athletes from North Korea and Iran, not to step over the global sanctions designed to pressure their governments from developing nuclear weapons.

Olympic sponsor Samsung Electronics donated 4,000 Galaxy Note 8 to all athletes and International Olympic Committee officials. The limited edition is not for sale but the Galaxy Note 8 phones are among the most expensive mobile devices in the market. Its price starts at about $1,000.

But North Korean athletes won't have the fun of taking selfies and filming their time in the South with the Samsung phone. The United Nations bans sending luxury items to North Korea or to North Korean nationals.

The IOC advised the Organizing Committee that North Koreans can use the Samsung phone during the games that start Friday and return them before their departure. But the organizer decided not to give out the devices, rather than risking violating sanctions.

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THE SISTER

North Korea informed the South on Wednesday that leader Kim Jong Un's sister, an increasingly prominent figure in the country's leadership, will be part of a high-level government delegation traveling for the Olympics. Kim Yo Jong, believed to be around 30, will be the first member of North Korea's ruling family to visit South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

South Korea expressed delight that she's coming, saying it shows North Korea's sincerity for improving relations. The North Korean delegation will also include Kim Yong Nam, the country's nominal head of state, and Choe Hwi, chairman of the country's National Sports Guidance Committee.

South Korean media have speculated that North Korea may give Seoul another sanctions-related headache by insisting to fly its senior officials via the U.S.-boycotted Air Koryo. However, experts say it's much more likely that they will arrive on Kim Jong Un's private jet.

Neither Kim Yo Jong nor Kim Yong Nam are among the North Korean officials blacklisted under U.N. sanctions. However, the U.S. Treasury Department last year included Kim Yo Jong on its list of blacklisted officials over her role as vice director of the ruling Workers' Party's Propaganda and Agitation Department.

The U.N. committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea has proposed granting an exemption for Choe, who has been on the U.N. sanctions blacklist since June last year.

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