Ex-NBA star Rodman arrives in North Korea to 'open door'
BEIJING/PYONGYANG (Kyodo) -- Former U.S. basketball superstar Dennis Rodman on Tuesday arrived in North Korea, saying he will try to "open the door" at a time when regional tensions remain high over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.
"I'm sure he's pretty much happy with the fact that I'm over here trying to accomplish something that we both need," Rodman, who is known to have close ties with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, told reporters at Beijing's international airport before his departure to Pyongyang, when asked if he had spoken to U.S. President Donald Trump in advance.
Rodman, wearing a baseball cap and T-shirt advertising a digital currency for legalized marijuana, suggested he could again meet with Kim before he finishes his trip, possibly on Saturday.
After disembarking from a flight of North Korea's national carrier Air Koryo in Pyongyang, Rodman was received by Son Kwang Ho, one of the vice ministers of the Ministry of Physical Culture and Sports.
This is the first time since January 2014 for Rodman to be in North Korea, and the main purpose of the visit is said to be promoting sports exchanges.
Of his four previous trips to North Korea, he received the red-carpet treatment each time and met with Kim on three of them.
The latest trip by Rodman, who has a personal relationship with Trump, comes at a time when also four U.S. citizens are being detained for what Kim's regime calls anti-state acts.
Rodman, however, said the purpose of his visit is not to discuss the detained citizens, but said, "I am pretty sure I can do something that is very positive."
U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon stressed that Rodman is a "private citizen."
"We are aware of his visit. We wish him well. But we have issued travel warnings to Americans and suggested they not travel to North Korea for their own safety," Shannon told reporters in Tokyo after meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's top national security adviser.
Rodman tweeted the trip is being sponsored by Potcoin, a company operating a cryptocurrency to facilitate transactions within the legalized cannabis industry.
He was a cast member of the Celebrity Apprentice, a television reality competition series, Trump hosted before he took office in January.
The retired basketball player is the highest-profile person from the United States to have met Kim in person since he inherited power following the death of his father in December 2011.
The United States, which has never had diplomatic ties, warned numerous times in recent weeks that Kim's regime is the most urgent threat to the international community.
"The regime's nuclear weapons program is a clear and present danger to all, and the regime's provocative actions, manifestly illegal under international law, have not abated despite United Nations' censure and sanctions," U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a written statement to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee on Monday.
North Korea has been testing a range of missiles in recent weeks and continuing with its rapid development of arms technologies, despite repeated international condemnation. Its ultimate goal is to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
Last Thursday, North Korea launched what it described as newly developed land-to-ship cruise missiles able to accurately hit floating targets in the Sea of Japan.
It was the fourth week in a row that North Korea has carried out a missile test.
During the previous one-week trip, Rodman, who won five National Basketball Association championships with the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls, organized an exhibition game in Pyongyang to mark Kim's birthday.
Rodman, who has described Kim as his "friend for life," made a brief speech praising Kim and sang "Happy Birthday" in front of him just before the start of the game at that time.