Kim Jong-un is waiting for a phone call from Barack Obama to chat about basketball, according to Dennis Rodman, the ex-NBA star who visited the reclusive country.
8:52PM GMT 03 Mar 2013
Speaking on his return from North Korea, the unlikely diplomat said: “He loves basketball. … I said Obama loves basketball. Let’s start there” as a way to warm up relations between the US and North Korea.
“He asked me to give Obama something to say and do one thing. He wants Obama to do one thing, call him,” Rodman told ABC’s This Week.
The State Department criticised North Korea last week for “wining and dining” Rodman while its own people go hungry.
Rodman also said Mr Kim told him, “I don’t want to do war. I don’t want to do war.”
Yet in January, after the UN Security Council voted to condemn the North’s successful rocket launch in December and expand penalties against Kim’s government, his National Defence Commission said in a statement that “settling accounts with the US needs to be done with force, not with words.” The statement also promised “a new phase of the anti-US struggle that has lasted century after century.”
North Korea and the US 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.
Rodman was the highest-profile American to meet Mr Kim since he inherited power from his father Kim Jong-il in 2011. He travelled to the secretive state with several members of the Harlem Globetrotters team for a new HBO series produced by New York-based VICE television.
The visit took place amid rising tensions between the countries.
North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test two weeks ago, making clear the provocative act was a warning to the United States to drop what it considers a “hostile” policy toward the North.
Rodman said he was aware of North Korea’s human rights record, which the State Department has characterised as one of the worst in the world, but said he wasn’t apologising for Kim.
“He’s a good guy to me,” Rodman said, adding, that “as a person to person, he’s my friend. I don’t condone what he does.”
Basketball is popular in North Korea, and Thursday’s exhibition game with two Americans playing on each team alongside North Koreans ended in a 110-110 tie. 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 said he planned to go back to North Korea to “find out more what’s really going on.”