Published : 2013-09-10 09:36
Updated : 2013-09-10 09:36
Many would call Dennis Rodman a propaganda proxy for North Korea. But some may describe the retired NBA player as a potential pioneer for sports diplomacy between the authoritarian country and the United States.
Rodman's news conference in Manhattan apparently reflected both those aspects.
He reiterated that the North's young dictator, Kim Jong-un, is a "very good guy."
"The marshal told me, 'We want people to come here, because we are not a bad country,'" Rodman said. On his second trip to Pyongyang last week, Rodman not only met with Kim but also his wife, Ri Sol-ju, and their baby girl, Kim Ju-ae, according to his earlier interview with The Guardian, a British newspaper.
Rodman said Kim, known to have been educated in Switzerland, wants to "change" his impoverished communist nation.
Despite their self-claimed friendship, Kim stopped short of allowing Rodman to bring a jailed American man back home with him.
It remains uncertain whether Rodman raised the Kenneth Bae issue.
But the former Chicago Bulls star seems to have laid the groundwork for continued basketball exchanges with North Korea.
Rodman said he agreed to train North Korea's Olympic basketball team at the request of Kim. Kim also asked Rodman to write a book about him.
Rodman said he will revisit Pyongyang in December, hopefully with his former Chicago Bulls teammate Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone, who played for the Utah Jazz.
"Michael Jordan, he won't do it, because he's Michael Jordan," Rodman said.
Asked to comment on Rodman's engagement with North Korea, meanwhile, the State Department played it down as a private activity unrelated to the U.S. government.
"This was a private visit, as we've said repeatedly," the department's deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a press briefing in Washington D.C.
Critics in the United States accuse Rodman of playing a propaganda role for the North.
Kim's courting of Rodman is just "jolly and trite pleasure," said professor Lee Sung-yoon at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
"Rodman, of course, is not qualified to carry out negotiations with North Korea on sensitive political issues. Nor does the North Korean leadership see him as a credible conveyor of official message to Washington," the professor, who also works for the Kim Koo-Korea Foundation, said in a op-ed on CNN. (Yonhap News)