It continues to be one of sport’s most unlikely spectacles — Dennis Rodman, American ambassador. Yet on Sunday, there he was on national television, acting as an unofficial spokesman for stronger ties between the United States and North Korea.
The Worm, after all, is the highest-profile American to visit the Communist nation since despot Kim Jong Un came to power in December 2011. That unlikely pair, the tattooed, pierced pro basketball legend and the 30-year-old, diminutive leader of a country cloaked in secrecy and sworn enemy of the U.S., spent quality time together last week during Rodman’s visit. Their common interest—basketball.
What Rodman said is important, because the Kim family seldom speaks to U.S. government officials from behind its façade as North Korea’s rulers. And yet, opening communications would seem to have a purpose. The country’s ventures into intercontinental ballistic missile technology and nuclear weapons make it a threat, if not to the U.S. to its allies, especially South Korea and Japan.
The State Department criticized North Korea last week for “wining and dining” Rodman while its own people go hungry.
“He’s a good guy to me,” Rodman said, adding: “As a person to person, he’s my friend. I don’t condone what he does.” Before you judge Rodman on that one, I know plenty of people with friends that do things that they don’t actually condone….ha!
The State Department continues to take a hands-off approach to Rodman, whose visit coincided with a trip by members of the Harlem Globetrotters for a basketball exhibition in North Korea. Following the game Kim threw an “epic feast” for the group, plying them with food and drinks and making round after round of toasts.
Rodman spent two days with Kim during that sojourn. They were seen laughing on the sideline during a game, and Rodman called Kim “a friend for life.”
During Sunday’s appearance on the ABC news talk show “This Week,” Rodman said Kim wants President Barack Obama to call him and doesn’t want war with the United States.
Yet in January, after the U.N. Security Council voted to condemn the North’s successful rocket launch in December and expand penalties against Kim’s government, his National Defense Commission said in a statement that “settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with words.” The statement also promised “a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle that has lasted century after century.”
North Korea and the U.S. fought on opposite sides of the three-year Korean War, which ended in a truce in 1953. The foes technically remain at war. They never signed a peace treaty and do not have diplomatic relations.
Shooting baskets is one thing; testing nuclear missiles and making threats against the U.S. is another.
Rodman’s actions are worth noting, especially given the history of sport and relations between the U.S. and Communist nations. Ping-pong diplomacy opened American relations with China, while baseball, Olympic sports and other games continue to be a connection between the U.S. and Cuba.
Will Rodman become a symbol of a U.S.-North Korea connection? Don’t tattoo that on anyone. Who thinks Dennis Rodman just wanted to be back on television? Any optimism from Rodman’s visit in regards to US and North Korea relations? Is there anybody else available to represent Americans in North Korea? Guess 2 Chainz was busy.
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