IOC President Thomas Bach speaks during the closing ceremony of Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea earlier this year. Photo: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

GENEVA, Switzerland - The International Olympic Committee urged the United Nations on Friday to approve an exemption allowing the delivery of sports equipment to North Korea, despite sanctions against the totalitarian regime. The call from Olympic President Thomas Bach came after the United States blocked a request submitted by the IOC earlier this month to the UN Sanctions Committee.

"We hope there can be a positive result in the interest of these athletes, and that such a move can also facilitate the IOC to contribute to the thawing of tensions on the Korean peninsula through sport," Bach said in a statement sent to AFP. 

Some experts believe that sports diplomacy between North and South Korea ahead of PyeongChang 2018 - which led to the two countries forming joint teams at the Games - paved the way for the subsequent unprecedented political talks between Seoul and Pyongyang. Bach said he was "grateful" that the Sanctions Committee granted an exemption during the Games and voiced "hope that this can be extended."

But in a letter to committee chair seen by AFP, the US said it objects to any further exemptions to sanctions imposed against North Korea over its missile and nuclear programmes. North Korea is also banned from importing luxury goods under UN resolutions that may apply to sports equipment.

The IOC said the exemption request "was confined to equipment for a very limited number of athletes so that they can prepare to qualify and participate in upcoming Olympic Games." 

US Ambassador Nikki Haley has stressed that the Security Council "can't do one thing" until North Korea takes steps toward scrapping its nuclear and missile programmes. The IOC said it was not aware if a final decision on its request had been made. 


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