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Travel Ban to North Korea the Latest Blow to United Image PyeongChang 2018 Wants to Project

26 Jul, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

It won’t affect the 2018 PyeongChang, South Korea, Winter Olympics, per se, but it certainly makes for some delicate diplomatic situations.

The U.S. State Department recently authorized a travel ban to North Korea, based on the danger to travelers, noted an article in Travel Weekly.  The State Department said it took action "due to safety and security concerns."

A follow-up tweet stated that "U.S. citizens seeking to travel to North Korea for humanitarian or other purposes may apply for a special validation passport."

Following official filing of a notice, the restriction is expected to go into effect in about 30 days – so the earliest the change will be seen is September.

It’s the latest crisis in international travel – in a year that has seen plenty of it already. And while PyeongChang remains open for business – including, of course, the Olympics, the diplomatic tensions are the latest frustration for the friendly host nation, which was seeking a Games that would showcase a “united Korea.”

According to Inside The Games, officials in South Korea are desperate to ensure Northern participation as a means to show the unifying power of sports. President Moon Jae-in has reiterated his call for North Korean participation at the Games and has insisted that the door will remain open "until the very last minute,” should the nation decide to send athletes. North Korea, however, has not committed to doing so.

World relations are at an increasingly delicate point following the launch earlier this month by North Korea of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. U.S. distrust of North Korea is further fueled by the death of 22-year-old Otto Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for subversion after attempting to remove a propaganda poster from a hotel. After being held for more than 17 months, the American was released by North Korea last month but arrived home in a coma and died soon after. 

Moon has advocated increased dialogue with their reclusive neighbor since assuming the presidency in May and has gone so far as to suggest a unified North and South Korean team could participate in PyeongChang. (This proposal has been dismissed as unrealistic, however, by officials, including North Korean IOC member Chang Ung.)

But Moon has remained optimistic about moving the two nations closer together, noting, "This is a chance for the people of our nation to heal and regain hope by successfully hosting the Olympic Winter Games."

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