Former NBA star Dennis Rodman has returned from what can only be described as a bizarre trip to the isolated nation of North Korea with a message for President Barack Obama from the country's leader: "Call him." Rodman visited the country last week to engage in "basketball diplomacy" in partnership with VICE Media and HBO.
The former basketball star participated in the trip along with several other basketball players as a part of VICE's news magazine series that will premiere on HBO in April. Rodman is the first known American to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who took control of the country in 2011. The 28-year-old leader has repeatedly defied sanctions from the United Nations and calls from the international community to abandon its nuclear program. Kim, however, told Rodman he isn't interested in a war:
He said, "If you can, Dennis—I don't want [to] do war. I don't want to do war." He said that to me.
Rodman also referred to the North Korean dictator, who is accused of starving his own people, as his "friend."
"You know, he's a good guy to me," Rodman said. "Guess what? He's my friend. I don't condone what he does … [but] as a person to person—he's my friend."
The White House dismissed Rodman's trip as frivolous, and said North Korea shouldn't be focusing on holding celebrity events but rather caring for its own people. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the stunt doesn't undermine official diplomatic efforts to the country:
The United States has direct channels of communications with the DPRK. And instead of spending money on celebrity sporting events to entertain the elites of that country, the North Korean regime should focus on the well-being of its own people who have been starved, imprisoned, and denied their human rights.
We have urged the North Korean leadership to heed President Obama's call to choose the path of peace and come into compliance with its international obligations. North Korea's actions, however, directly violate United Nations Security Council resolutions and threaten international peace and security.
Yet National Journal's Michael Hirsh says the White House shouldn't be so quick to dismiss Rodman's trip. He writes that the basketball player's "meta diplomacy" could actually open up dialogue between the secluded country and the United States:
If the only way to begin the drama/opera is with a clown show—that's been done before—then a weird, unemployed basketball star surely works as well as anyone else.
Kim, saddled with running a regime that has zero viability on the world stage except through what it can extract using nuclear blackmail, is clearly reaching out in the way that only North Korean dictators can. "The kid's only 28," Rodman said. "He loves basketball. Obama loves basketball. Let's start there." When you're at ground zero, that makes as much sense as any other approach.
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