Retired basketball star Dennis Rodman returns to North Korea
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[June 14, 2017]
By Jake Spring and Joseph Campbell
BEIJING (Reuters) - Former National
Basketball Association star Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea on
Tuesday, returning to the increasingly isolated nuclear-armed
country where he has previously met leader Kim Jong Un.
Rodman was surrounded by journalists when he arrived at Beijing's
airport to catch a flight for the North Korean capital, which he
said he was visiting as a private citizen.
"I'm just trying to open the door," Rodman told reporters, wearing
sunglasses and a dark shirt and baseball cap with the logo of his
trip's sponsor, a crypto-currency provider for the legal marijuana
"My purpose is to actually to see if I can keep bringing sports to
North Korea, so that’s the main thing," said Rodman, who wore his
familiar facial piercings and was escorted through customs and
immigration by two handlers.
Rodman, 56, arrived in Pyongyang later on Tuesday for a five-day
visit, received by North Korean officials at Pyongyang's airport,
China's Xinhua news agency reported from the North Korean capital.
Rodman said in a tweet ahead of his trip: “I’m back! Thanks to my
sponsor www.potcoin.com," adding that he would “discuss my mission
upon my return to the USA.”
Tensions have escalated on the Korean peninsula over North Korea's
nuclear and missile tests and its vow to develop a nuclear-tipped
missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, presenting U.S.
President Donald Trump with perhaps his most pressing security
Before Trump became president, Rodman appeared twice on his
"Celebrity Apprentice" show and praised the billionaire real estate
developer on Twitter during last year's election campaign.
"I am pretty much sure that he is happy with the fact that I am over
here trying to accomplish something that we both need," Rodman said,
when asked on Tuesday if he had spoken with Trump.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon, speaking with reporters
in Tokyo after meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's top national
security adviser, said Rodman was traveling as a private citizen.
"We are aware of his visit. We wish him well. But we have issued
travel warnings to Americans and suggested they not travel to North
Korea for their own safety," he said.
Four Americans are being held in North Korea, including 22-year-old
student Otto Warmbier, who was detained in January 2016 and
sentenced to 15 years' hard labor for attempting to steal a
Rodman's North Korea visits over the years have fueled speculation
that he could somehow facilitate a diplomatic breakthrough between
Pyongyang and Washington.
[to top of second column]
Former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman arrives at Beijing
Capital International Airport as he leaves for North Korea's
Pyongyang, in Beijing, China, June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee
"Hopefully, there will be some positive results. However, we must
have realistic expectations, and if the DPRK (North Korea) and U.S.
governments wish to communicate or send messages, there are channels
to do that," said Daniel Pinkston, a Troy University lecturer and
expert on the Koreas, based in Seoul.
The flamboyant Rodman, who has called Kim "an awesome kid," said in
an interview with CNN in 2014 that his travels to North Korea would
help "open the door" to the isolated nation.
The unpredictable Trump has offered mixed messages to Kim Jong Un,
saying he would be "honored" to meet him under the right conditions
and once describing the young leader as "a pretty smart cookie."
But Trump has also called Kim a "madman with nuclear weapons" who
could not be let on the loose.
Rodman has faced ridicule and criticism for his trips to North
Korea, which some U.S. politicians and activists view as serving
only as fodder for North Korean propaganda.
Rodman's earlier visits to North Korea included a basketball game
that he organized, an event chronicled in the documentary film "Big
Bang in Pyongyang," which featured Rodman singing "Happy Birthday"
to Kim, as well as scenes of inebriated and erratic behavior by the
basketball Hall of Famer.
Rodman, nicknamed "The Worm" during his playing career and known for
his tattoos, body piercings and multi-colored hair, is considered
one of the best defensive players and rebounders in NBA history.
He won five league championships with the Detroit Pistons and
(Additional reporting by Eric Beech, David Brunnstrom and Steve
Holland in Washington; Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Kiyoshi Takenaka
in Tokyo; and Ju-min Park and Se Young Lee in Seoul; Editing by Tony
Munroe and Bill Tarrant)
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