U.N. allows North Korean officials to travel to South Korea for Olympics: diplomats

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A United Nations Security Council committee granted approval on Thursday for a North Korean delegation, specifically U.N.-sanctioned senior official Choe Hwi, to travel to South Korea for the opening of the Winter Olympics, diplomats said.

While South Korea asked for broad approval to host the high-level delegation from Pyongyang - including North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong - Choe was the only member subjected to a targeted U.N. travel ban and asset freeze.

South Korea’s U.N. mission told the Security Council committee the delegation was expected to attend the opening ceremonies on Friday and stay until Sunday. The 15-member committee makes decisions by consensus.

The mission said the visit “will serve as a timely opportunity to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula and beyond by promoting an environment conducive to a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution concerning the situation on the Peninsula,” according to the request seen by Reuters.

Pyongyang told Seoul that Choe, chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee, would travel to Pyeongchang as part of its delegation led by Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s nominal head of state, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said on Wednesday.

The Security Council sanctioned Choe on June 2 last year when he was vice director of the Workers’ Party of the Korea Propaganda and Agitation Department, which controls ideological messaging through the media, arts and culture. Kim Yo Jong now holds that position.

Kim Yo Jong was blacklisted last year by the U.S. Treasury Department over human rights abuses and censorship. While she is not subject to targeted sanctions by the U.N. Security Council, the propaganda and agitation department is blacklisted.

“We are coordinating closely with the Republic of Korea regarding North Korean participation in the Olympics. As allies, we will not allow the North Koreans to use the Olympics as a way to drive a wedge between us,” a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, Katina Adams, said.

The Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney