Dennis Rodman back from North Korea. Time to take him seriously? (+video)(Read article summary)
Dennis Rodman may not fit the standard diplomat's profile, but considering the lack of any civil contact between the US and North Korea, his basketball outreach is winning some fans.
Dennis Rodman looks like no oneâ€™s idea of a diplomat. Heâ€™s got more piercings than a dartboard and dresses with flamboyance, as if he believes Mardi Gras is every day.
At press conferences he speaks his own language. Sometimes it makes sense. Sometimes it is composed of equal parts expletives and random nouns.
Mr. Pinkston appeared with Rodman Monday in New York to argue that given the lack of any sort of civil contact between the US and North Korea, Rodmanâ€™s trips to Asiaâ€™s hermit kingdom make sense.
â€śThis is about opening peopleâ€™s minds and delivering new thinking to North Korea,â€ť he said.
Letâ€™s back up a bit and go over Rodmanâ€™s recent travels, shall we? Itâ€™s easier to see where the circus train is going once you know where itâ€™s already been.
The six-time NBA champion and member of the Basketball Hall of Fame is just back from a five-day trip to North Korea, his second. It was sponsored by an Irish betting company. During the visit, Rodman again saw his friend, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Apparently he was the first foreigner to hold Kimâ€™s new daughter. During an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, Rodman inadvertently leaked the daughterâ€™s name to the world press.
Itâ€™s Ju Ae.
â€śThe Marshal Kim and I had a good time by the sea,â€ť Rodman told The Guardian.
Arriving back in the US, Rodman and his Irish online wagering firm sponsor, Paddy Power, called a press conference on Monday to announce further plans. For one thing, Rodman intends to go back to North Korea with a team of former NBA players to play two exhibition games in January. He hopes to get former teammates and friends, such as ex-Chicago Bull Scottie Pippen, to join him.
â€śMichael Jordan, he wonâ€™t do it, because heâ€™s Michael Jordan,â€ť said Rodman.
In addition, Kim has asked him to help train North Koreaâ€™s national basketball team for the 2016 Olympics, according to Rodman. The North Korean leader has offered to let Rodman write a book about him.
Despite some previous hints to the contrary, Rodman said he wonâ€™t be getting involved in trying to gain the release of Kenneth Bae, an American sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea.
The US has repeatedly called for the release of Mr. Bae, a tour organizer and guide who was convicted earlier this year of attempting to bring down the North Korean government. Last month North Korea abruptly withdrew an invitation for a US official to visit Pyongyang to discuss the matter.
Rodman said he did not want to discuss politics but raised his voice to answer a question about North Korea and human rights. The young Kim is different than his father and grandfather, Rodman insisted.
â€śHe has a job to do, but heâ€™s a very good guy,â€ť said Rodman.
Rodman was holding a cigar, wearing a shirt advertising a liquor company, and a Paddy Power hat. In this context the presence at the press conference of Pinkston, the Seoul-based North East Asia Project Director of the International Crisis Group, seemed incongruous. But the latter insisted it made sense.
â€śItâ€™s a little bit controversial,â€ť Pinkston said of Rodmanâ€™s basketball outreach. But he added that people should focus on the substance and not the flamboyance.
â€śThere is little or no risk involved in this,â€ť he said.
The US is not providing Pyongyang with money, prestige, or any diplomatic advantage via Rodmanâ€™s trips, in Pinkstonâ€™s view. Yet person-to-person exchanges such as the forthcoming basketball trip could help sow seeds for civil society in the tightly controlled, reclusive North Korean state.
â€śWhile only a small step, these games could become a mechanism for the introduction of new ideas and information that are so sorely needed in North Korea,â€ť writes Pinkston in an analysis published Monday on the International Crisis Group website.