Former NBA star Dennis Rodman landed yesterday in Pyongyang and said he plans to hang out with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, have a good time and maybe bridge some cultural gaps — but not be a diplomat.
Rodman was greeted at Pyongyang’s airport by Son Kwang-ho, vice chairman of North Korea’s Olympic Committee, just days after Pyongyang rejected a visit by a US envoy who had hoped to bring home Kenneth Bae, an American missionary jailed there.
The North abruptly called off the official visit because it said the US had ruined the atmosphere for talks by holding a drill over South Korea with nuclear-capable B-52 bombers.
Rodman said the purpose of his visit was to display his friendship for Kim and North Korea and to “show people around the world that we as Americans can actually get along with North Korea.”
Speaking to reporters in Beijing ahead of his flight to Pyongyang — his second trip to the North —Rodman declined to say whether he would seek Bae’s release. Bae’s health is poor, and he was recently transferred to a hospital.
“I’m not going to talk about that,” he said.
“I just want to meet my friend Kim, the marshal, and start a basketball league over there or something like that,” said Rodman, wearing rings through his lower lip and each nostril. “I have not been promised anything. I am just going there as a friendly gesture.”
Bae was arrested in November last year and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for what Pyongyang described as hostile acts against the state.
Rodman once asked on his Twitter account for Kim to “do me a solid” and release Bae.
Kim has the power to grant special pardons under the North’s constitution.
“I’m not there to be a diplomat. I’m there to go there and just have a good time, sit with [Kim] and his family, and that’s pretty much it,” Rodman said, adding that he planned to see Kim “pretty soon,” perhaps later yesterday or today.
When asked if he was bringing any of his own brand of vodka to North Korea, Rodman chuckled and said no.
“They love whiskey. They love tequila. They love vodka, stuff like this, so, hopefully we’ll go to have a nice dinner, sit there and talk,” said Rodman, whose green-dyed hair was showing from beneath a black baseball cap.
“I’m just going over there to have a good time and try to bridge the gap with Americans and North Koreans. Just let’s let people see in America that it’s not a bad thing to go to North Korea and have a good time and meet new people,” he said.
Rodman first met Kim — a die-hard basketball fan — during a visit in February to promote the sport and make a film. US officials frowned on the trip for giving the young leader a propaganda boost. In the weeks that followed, after UN sanctions imposed in early March over Pyongyang’s February nuclear test, North Korea threatened Washington and Seoul with nuclear and missile strikes and shut down an inter-Korean factory in the North.
However, Rodman said “basketball diplomacy” could warm relations and said that Kim wanted US President Barack Obama to pick up the telephone and call him.
He has called Kim an “awesome guy.”
Outside analysts have said Pyongyang is likely using Bae as bait to win diplomatic concessions in a standoff over its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea denies this.
Pyongyang accuses Bae of trying to establish an anti-Pyongyang base in the North.
Friends say Bae was based in a Chinese border city and traveled frequently to North Korea, both as a tour operator and to feed orphans.