(WASHINGTON) -- Dennis Rodman's visit to North Korea this week stunned the world, but the can of Coca Cola he drank there also unwittingly shed light on how the reclusive country evades U.S. trade sanctions.
The former basketball star secured an improbable place in American diplomatic history when he traveled to North Korea this week and became one of the first, if not the first, American to meet with its young new leader, Kim Jong Un.
In photos released by the VICE Media crew that organized his visit, Rodman is seen sitting next to Jong Un at an exhibition basketball game, and in front of him is a can of Coca Cola (Jong Un appears to prefer tea).
Rodman ended his trip to North Korea on Friday while lavishing praise on Jong Un, who is the third in his family to run the secretive regime.
Rodman had to share the spotlight, however, with that brazen can of Coke. What drew attention to the red and white can is that North Korea is one of two countries in the world where Coca-Cola does not and cannot do business because of U.S. sanctions. The sanctions are in place because of North Korea's determination to proceed with a nuclear weapons and missile program that Jong Un says is aimed at the U.S.
The only other country where Coke is banned is Cuba. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was on that list until last year. Yet when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Myanmar in 2011, reporters noticed Coke on sale there as well, imported by third parties from Thailand.
That is most likely how Rodman's contraband can of Coke arrived in North Korea.
Coke spokesman Kent Landers told ABC News on Friday, "Coca-Cola does not currently do business in North Korea. Any products sold in the market have been purchased by third parties not authorized by The Coca-Cola Company and imported into the country from other markets where they are sold."
Tourists who recently visited a new pizzeria in Pyongyang noticed the iconic American beverage was being served there. After videos of the cans turned up on YouTube, Coke was forced to put out a statement nearly identical to what it issued Friday.
When ABC News visited the Pyongyang pizzeria, clearly meant only for tourists and North Korean elite, during a visit to North Korea last year they were also served Coca Cola and report it tasted the same, though the cans were slightly taller and thinner than those found in the United States. An ABC News reporter was also able to procure a can of Coke elsewhere during a previous trip to North Korea.
An ABC News team that was in Cuba recently saw no sign of Coke, but the Cuban government produces its own version of cola.
Coca Cola's presence in North Korea, despite American sanctions, is perhaps emblematic of the same thing as Rodman's visit -- that despite the tempest of geopolitics, the popularity of Coca Cola and basketball are universal.
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