The odd couple is getting odder: first, Dennis Rodman and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un take in a hoops game side by side. Now, they are reportedly planning a holiday together.
The retired and flamboyant 51-year-old, who announced the vacation plan on Monday, became the most high-profile American to meet Kim, doing so during a recent trip to Pyongyang, which came against a backdrop of increased North Korean saber-rattling.
While officials in Washington have played down the significance of the trip, stating that the former Chicago Bulls star does not represent the views of the US, Rodman said on Monday that he plans to return to the isolated and impoverished state.
In brief comments to the KXJB local television station in Fargo, North Dakota, Rodman described Kim as a friend.
“I don’t condone what he does, but he’s my friend,” Rodman told a reporter.
Asked if he planned to return to North Korea, Rodman replied: “Yes I will. In August. I’m vacationing with him.”
Rodman’s remarks came as Kim threatened to “wipe out” a South Korean island and North Korea came under renewed diplomatic fire, with US sanctions and UN charges of gross rights abuses.
US Department of State spokesman Patrick Ventrell last week rejected the suggestion that Rodman could become an ambassador to North Korea, given his new unexpected relationship with Kim.
“I’m not even sure I can dignify that with a response,” Ventrell said. “Dennis Rodman has never been a player in our diplomacy. He does not represent the views of the United States.”
“We have direct channels of communications with the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]. They know how to get in touch with us,” Ventrell said.
“Instead of spending their money on staging sporting events, the North Korean regime should focus on the well-being of its people, and it should come in line with its international obligations,” he said.
The US and North Korea have no official diplomatic relations, but have kept a channel of communications open at the UN in New York, and Sweden also acts as a go-between for the two nations.