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Dennis Rodman arrives in North Korea pledging to ‘open door’

Ex-Chicago Bulls player claims Donald Trump would be pleased with his mission because he is trying to accomplish something we both need

Flamboyant former NBA star Dennis Rodman has arrived in North Korea, saying he wants to open the door to the regime and claiming that Donald Trump would be pleased with his mission.

Sporting a baseball cap, sunglasses and a black T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of sponsor PotCoin a cryptocurrency for the legal cannabis industry Rodman was greeted at Pyongyang airport by sports vice-minister Son Kwang Ho and journalists.

Im just trying to open the door, the ex-Chicago Bulls player told reporters at Beijing airport before boarding his Air Koryo flight.

Asked whether he had spoken with Trump about his trip, Rodman said: Im pretty sure hes pretty much happy with the fact that Im over here trying to accomplish something that we both need.

Rodmans trip to North Korea is at least his fifth. Most recently in 2014 he attracted criticism after being filmed singing happy birthday to his friend for life, the authoritarian leader Kim Jong-un.

The latest visit comes amid high tensions between Washington and Pyongyang following a series of missile tests by the North, which have triggered tightened UN sanctions.

The 56-year-old NBA star, who was heavily criticised for failing to raise the plight of a jailed US missionary on a previous trip, said discussing detained US citizens was not my purpose right now. Four Americans are currently being detained by Pyongyang.

Rodman is one of the few westerners to have met Kim, who took over following the death of his father Kim Jong-il in 2011.

It is not clear whether Rodman will be meeting Kim Jong-un during the current trip, or what its exact purpose is.

He said in Beijing his aim was to try to bring sports to North Korea. Rodman has met Kim on some but not all of his previous trips.

North
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (centre), his wife Ri Sol-ju (left) and Dennis Rodman (right) watching a basketball game in Pyongyang in 2014. Photograph: KCNA/AFP/Getty Images

He has previously described his visits including one in 2013 with the Harlem Globetrotters as basketball diplomacy but has been roundly criticised for failing to raise human rights issues.

A senior Trump administration official told Fox News Rodman was going to the North as a private citizen.

Rodman has developed an unlikely relationship with the North Korean leader since making his first trip there in 2013.

The bombastic player who once wore a wedding dress to promote one of his books also knows Trump, having appeared as a contestant on his reality television show The Celebrity Apprentice.

Trump called Rodman smart for his 2013 trip to North Korea, Politico reported at the time. The world is blowing up around us. Maybe Dennis is a lot better than what we have, Trump was quoted as saying. Dennis is not a stupid guy. Hes smart in many ways; hes very street-wise.

Analyst Daniel Pinkston, a lecturer at Troy University in Alabama, said he did not believe that Rodman was going as a back-channel emissary from Trump despite US media speculation.

I have high confidence thats not the case but Dennis does know Trump and he does know Kim, Pinkston said, adding that its not a pre-planned thing.

The young Kim, who was educated in Switzerland, is reported to be a keen basketball fan and especially of the Chicago Bulls. Rodman played a key role in winning three NBA titles for them alongside Michael Jordan in the 1990s.

Pinkston said the trip was probably part of an effort by the Norths foreign ministry to ease tensions with Washington. They were looking at ways to do that and this was one of the instruments they were looking at, and the foreign ministry thought it was advisable to formally extend an invitation, he said.

The North has occasionally jailed US citizens on charges ranging from hostile acts to illegal entry, and released them only after visits by high-profile figures including former president Bill Clinton.

Rodman routinely distances himself from political events in North Korea.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/jun/13/dennis-rodman-heads-to-north-korea-again

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