Winter Olympics: North Korea sanctions tested by Nike, Samsung products

The participation of 22 North Korean athletes in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, will test the limits of United Nations sanctions imposed on the isolated nation to curtail its pursuit of a nuclear weapons program.

The U.N. Security Council’s various sanctions against Kim Jong Un’s regime include strict bans on exports of luxury goods, including sports gear, to North Korea. The international sanctions could bar Olympic organizers and sponsors from providing North Korean athletes with certain perks that hundreds of other Olympians will receive.

The sanctions have complicated South Korean electronics maker Samsung’s planned giveaway of 4,000 Galaxy Note 8 smartphones valued at more than $900 to Olympic athletes. It’s unclear if North Korean athletes are eligible to receive the Samsung phones.

“The IOC will provide mobile phones to all athletes and officials of all countries participating at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018," an International Olympic Committee spokesperson told FOX Business. "Regarding North Korea, all participants are requested not to take the phones back to their home country but to only use them during their stay in PyeongChang, since that is required to allow them to participate in the Games.”

The IOC official would not specify whether the North Korean athletes would receive the Samsung smartphones. Samsung did not respond to FOX Business’s request for comment on the situation. Representatives for the Pyeongchang 2018 Organizing Committee also could not be reached for comment.

A Nike representative said members of the joint Korean women’s hockey team competing in Pyeongchang will not wear uniforms manufactured by the Oregon-based company due to concerns about the sanctions.

"We have worked with the [International Ice Hockey Federation] to find the best solution to support Olympic Athletes and comply with U.S. sanctions. The Korean Women’s Hockey Team will not compete in Nike uniforms," the Nike spokesperson said in a statement.

Athlete giveaways are not the only source of concern. South Korean officials are mulling whether to refuel a North Korean ferry called the Mangyongbong-92 that is carrying performers for participation in the Olympics, as the U.N. sanctions place restrictions on supplying fuel to the North.

“The Korean government is basically in close consultation with the international community including the United States, when necessary, in accordance with the basic principle that North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games should not cause controversy related to international sanctions against North Korea,” South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Ku-duk said Tuesday, according to Voice of America.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who is set to attend the Olympics’ opening ceremony with the father of Otto Warmbier, the American student who died shortly after a lengthy captivity in North Korea, said he will soon unveil tougher sanctions against North Korea.

“We will continue to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile program once and for all,” Pence said.

This story has been updated.