Former NBA star Dennis Rodman returned to North Korea Tuesday to pay another visit to "my friend Kim," the autocratic 30-year-old ruler Kim Jong Un.
Rodman, 52, became fast friends with the young leader during a previous trip in February, bonding over their mutual interest in basketball amid an intense bout of saber-rattling between North Korea and the U.S.
Rodman was the first American to meet Kim, who took office in 2011 after the death of his father Kim Jong Il.
"I'm just trying to go [back] over there to meet my friend Kim, the Marshal," Rodman told Reuters in Beijing, before flying to Pyongyang. "Try to start a basketball league over there, something like that."
He's not planning to negotiate the release of Kenneth Bae, an American missionary serving a 15-year sentence for allegedly urging rebellion against Kim. Last week the totalitarian state canceled a trip by U.S. diplomat Robert King to discuss Bae.
"I'm not going to North Korea to discuss freeing Kenneth Bae," Rodman told Reuters. "I'm just going there on another basketball diplomacy tour."
Although the now-mellowed defensive star famous for his on- and off-the-court antics doesn't plan to discuss Bae, the good will trip may cause positive ripple effects.
Influential Christian minister and humanitarian Franklin Graham told U.S. News in March his proposal to build a church in Pyongyang was approved by Kim after Rodman's first visit. The church would cater to foreigners.
The current trip, Graham told U.S. News on Tuesday, "underscores how much North Koreans like American basketball and the NBA. ... I think," he added, "our country is making a big mistake in not recognizing that and using it to our advantage."
Graham vocally supported Rodman's first trip and believes President Barack Obama should reach out to Kim.
"The diplomacy we've been using up to this point hasn't worked," he said.
Graham serves as president of Samaritan's Purse, a Christian relief group whose $422 million 2013 budget is put to use around the world, including in North Korea. The organization communicated to North Korean authorities its interest in helping resolve the impasse over Bae's imprisonment, Graham said.
The high-profile minister, currently helping war veterans reconnect with spouses in Alaska, says the proposed Pyongyang church remains green-lighted, in exchange for help building a large pediatric hospital. Discussions are taking place over the size of the facility.
Graham encourages U.S. officials to keep pre-Korean War history in mind when negotiating with the communist leadership.
"They think of what [the Japanese] did to them and say that's never going to happen again," he said. "We have to work with that and understand history. We tend to forget history."
Rodman returned to the U.S. earlier this year with a message for Obama, which he relayed during a broadcast of ABC's "This Week."
"He wants Obama to do one thing: Call him," Rodman said. "He said, 'If you can, Dennis, I don't want [to] do war.'" It's highly unlikely that Obama took the advice, but tensions have cooled since Rodman's first trip.
Kim spent Monday visiting soldiers near the border with South Korea. He posed for photos with military families, enjoyed an art show and inspected wind power generators, according to a post on the website of the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
"The U.S. can do a lot more trying to engage this new young leader," Graham said. "It's almost like we're in denial. They have nuclear weapons, whether we like it or not, and this is a little country, they aren't going to give them up easily."