July 26, 2018 / 8:22 PM / 19 days ago

U.S. blocks IOC request to send sports equipment to North Korea - diplomats

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States has blocked a request by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to transfer sports equipment to North Korea so its athletes can prepare, qualify and participate in the Olympic Games, United Nations diplomats said on Thursday.

Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) attends a news conference after an Executive Board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, July 20, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

IOC President Thomas Bach asked the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee, in a July 3 letter, for an exemption to allow the transfer. The United States on Wednesday told the committee, which operates by consensus, it objected.

A U.S. official declined to comment on confidential committee deliberations, but added: “We remain upbeat about the prospects of denuclearisation of North Korea, but it will take full enforcement of sanctions to get us there.”

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met for the first time in Singapore in June and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo followed up with inconclusive talks with North Korea this month.

After briefing Security Council envoys last week, Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned against loosening sanctions on Pyongyang after Russia and China suggested the council could discuss such a move.

The IOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the U.S. objection to transferring sports equipment. Tokyo will host the next Summer Olympics in 2020.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The council has banned luxury goods, a somewhat grey area although it has said that this includes recreational sports equipment.

Bach said in May that the IOC, at the request of North and South Korea, would support peace talks on the Korean peninsula with sports initiatives.

The countries marched under a unified flag at the opening and closing ceremonies of February’s Winter Olympics in South Korea’s Pyeongchang as tense relations between the countries started to thaw. Bach then visited North Korea in March and met Kim.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool

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