February 9, 2018 / 11:43 AM / a year ago

REFILE-Olympics-Hold the phone? Games organisers apologise to Iran for apparent gift gaffe

(Adds sentence in paragraph 5 making clear that Iran is not under U.N. sanctions over its nuclear programme)

By Ossian Shine

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Organisers of South Korea’s Winter Olympics apologised to the Iranian team before Friday’s opening ceremony for what they called a misunderstanding over gifts of Samsung mobile phones.

Iran on Thursday had summoned South Korea’s ambassador over reports its athletes would not each receive a $1,100 smartphone.

News reports said 4,000 of the phones were being given to athletes attending the Pyeongchang games, but that athletes from Iran and North Korea would be excluded because of U.N. sanctions against the two countries over their nuclear programmes.

The IOC stepped in late on Thursday to say athletes from both countries would receive the phones, but that the North Koreans would be asked not to take the devices home.

Iran had summoned South Korea’s ambassador to Tehran to the Foreign Ministry, to explain the apparent snub. U.N. sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme were lifted following a 2015 deal with global powers.

“If Samsung does not apologise for its unwise action, this will greatly affect Samsung’s trade relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran”, the state news agency IRNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying.

Samsung said the IOC was responsible for distributing gifts at the Olympics and had no further comment.

On Friday, Games organisers POCOG said: “A letter was today sent from POCOG President Mr Lee Hee-beom to the Chef de Mission of the National Olympic Committee of the Islamic Republic of Iran to apologise for the misunderstanding regarding the distribution of mobile phones to the Iranian athletes.

“The IOC has confirmed that the Iranian athletes are entitled to receive and keep the phones.

“Samsung Electronics delivered over 4,000 Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Games Limited Edition - a special edition of Galaxy Note8 - to the IOC and Pyeongchang Organizing Committee. The company was not involved in the decision-making process regarding the distribution of the phones.”

Iran has four competitors at the Olympics which run from Feb. 9-25.

Reclusive North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. (Editing by Nick Macfie and Kevin Liffey)

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