SEOUL: Flamboyant basketball star Dennis Rodman says his mission to Pyongyang is an attempt to “open doors” with the isolated country, as the US focuses on the release from North Korean custody of a comatose student.
In a video filmed in Beijing before an unresponsive Otto Warmbier was evacuated to the United States suffering from brain damage, the eccentric ex-Chicago Bull said he wanted to build bridges with the Stalinist state.
“The main thing we’re trying to do is trying to open doors between both countries,” Rodman said in the video, adding that “just a little bit absolutely goes a long ways”.
Rodman is “the only person on the planet” that has had the “uniqueness, the unbelievable privilege of being friends with President (Donald) Trump and Marshall Kim Jong-Un,” said an unidentified member of Rodman’s entourage in the video.
“And he’s going to try to bring peace between the two nations,” the man added.
The heavily pierced Rodman, who wears green nail varnish and is covered in tattoos, flew to Pyongyang this week on a mission he said he believed Trump would be “pretty happy” about.
The power forward said he was trying to accomplish something that “we both need”, prompting repeated denials from US officials that he was on an authorized mission.
So far on his trip, Rodman, a former contestant on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice”, has met with North Korean athletes as well as the North’s sports minister, to whom he handed over a copy of the president’s book “The Art of the Deal.”
His bizarre gift bag also included a copy of “Where’s Waldo? The Totally Essential Travel Collection”, along with some soap, and two autographed jerseys.
The 56-year-old NBA Hall of Famer has developed unusually cozy ties with the North’s young leader over the course of at least four previous trips to the country.
Rodman, nicknamed “The Worm”, attracted a deluge of criticism after being filmed singing Happy Birthday to his “friend for life” Kim, during a 2014 visit.
US officials have repeatedly said Rodman is traveling to North Korea as a private citizen, despite speculation he is working as an unofficial emissary for Trump.
In the US, Fred Warmbier echoed US denials that Rodman’s visit to Pyongyang had anything to do with the sudden release of his sick son.