PYONGYANG, N. Korea
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman is in North Korea with plans to hang out with authoritarian 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 Tuesday by Son Kwang Ho, vice-chairman of North Korea’s Olympic Committee, just days after Pyongyang rejected a visit by a U.S. 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 U.S. had ruined the atmosphere for talks by having 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 recently was transferred to a hospital.
“I just want to meet my friend Kim, the marshal, and start a basketball league over there or something like that,” said Rodman. “I have not been promised anything. I am just going there as a friendly gesture.”
Bae was arrested in November 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 Tuesday or today.