Dennis Rodman: Frequent Visitor to North Korea, is Back

The former N.B.A. star Dennis Rodman has been one of the United States’ most unlikely links to North Korea, traveling repeatedly to the authoritarian state and gaining rare access to its leadership.

Now he is back, though no details have emerged of what he plans to do there. Mr. Rodman’s visit coincided with the surprise release of Otto F. Warmbier, an American college student who had been held prisoner in North Korea for more than a year.

Mr. Warmbier, 23, was sentenced to a 15-year prison term for trying to steal a propaganda poster in January 2016. Some analysts speculated that Mr. Rodman may even be carrying a message from President Trump, who had previously praised his efforts to engage North Korea.
Denis Rodman and North Korea Leader

Mr. Rodman was seen at Beijing International Airport and flew to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on Tuesday, CNN reported.

Mr. Rodman wrote Tuesday afternoon on Twitter that he had arrived in the country, saying, “I’m back” and thanking “my sponsor PotCoin.com.” PotCoin offers banking services to the legal marijuana industry. One of Mr. Rodman’s earlier visits to North Korea was sponsored by an Irish gambling company.

Websites and marijuana magazines have portrayed North Korea as a stoner’s paradise where cannabis is legal and can be freely purchased in marketplaces, but The Associated Press, one of the few foreign news organizations with an office in Pyongyang, sought to debunk that myth in January.

Mr. Rodman declined to say whether he had spoken about the trip with Mr. Trump, who four years ago endorsed Mr. Rodman’s visiting North Korea. “Well, I’m pretty sure he’s pretty much happy with the fact that I’m over here trying to accomplish something that we both need,” Mr. Rodman said, as reported by The A.P.

Mr. Trump spoke to Fox News in 2013 about Mr. Rodman and North Korea, a year in which Mr. Rodman also appeared on his “Celebrity Apprentice” show. “Maybe Dennis is a lot better than what we have,” he said.

Suzanne DiMaggio, a director and senior fellow at the New America think tank who had been involved in unofficial talks with North Korea, said on Twitter that there was a “high probability” of communication between the Trump administration and Mr. Rodman.

While traveling in Tokyo, Thomas A. Shannon Jr., the United States under secretary of state for political affairs, said that Mr. Rodman was not acting in an official capacity. “We are aware of his visit,” Mr. Shannon said. “We wish him well, but we have issued travel warnings to Americans and suggested they not travel to North Korea for their own safety.”

The visit is the latest leg in a strange tale. In February 2013, Mr. Rodman, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, became one of the first Americans then known to have met Kim Jong-un, who had taken over the leadership of North Korea after his father’s death in 2011. 

Mr. Kim, a longtime basketball fan, sat with Mr. Rodman to watch an exhibition game that featured three Harlem Globetrotters.
Mr. Rodman returned in September 2013, when he held Mr. Kim’s newborn daughter. A few months later, he made another visit with other former National Basketball Association players.

Officials in President Barack Obama’s administration said they would have blocked Mr. Rodman from visiting if they had any power to do so. The N.B.A. distanced itself from the issue, and Mr. Rodman was criticized by politicians and human rights advocates for giving friendly publicity to one of the world’s most repressive states.

But he also offered up little-known details about Mr. Kim, confirming his age and his birthday, for instance. He also suggested that Mr. Obama simply pick up the phone and call the North Korean leader. The United States and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic relations, and Mr. Trump has called on China to pressure its neighbor and ally to rein in its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea has carried out a series of missile tests recently, and some observers raised concerns this spring that it was preparing for a sixth nuclear test. On Tuesday, South Korean military officials told reporters that a North Korean drone found last week had taken photographs of a recently installed American-made antimissile system.

Mr. Rodman endorsed Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign in 2015 and appeared on his “Celebrity Apprentice” television show in 2009 and 2013.

Mr. Rodman has toyed with the idea of carrying out serious diplomacy in the past. He mentioned the case of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American who had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea, in a 2013 interview with the celebrity news site TMZ. 

But he later played down any suggestion that he would lobby for Mr. Bae and disparaged him in an interview with CNN during his 2014 visit. Mr. Bae, a Christian missionary who was released in November 2014, said he thought Mr. Rodman had in fact helped him, because he increased public awareness of his imprisonment.

With Mr. Warmbier’s release, three Americans are now detained in North Korea, and in May, the State Department elevated its travel advisory, saying it “strongly warns” Americans not to visit because of the risk of arrest and long-term detention. - New York Times

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