Dennis Rodman’s bizarre North Korean jaunt has dominated headlines in both countries for days, but the U.S. State Department has no comment on the matter -- as deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell made very clear in his daily press briefing on Thursday..
Reporters asked Ventrell several times whether the department had any comment on Rodman’s visit, which one journalist at the briefing called “part of propaganda ploys for the North Korean regime.” Ventrell’s response:
Private individual Americans are welcome to take actions they see fit … we’re not a clearinghouse for American citizen travel to North Korea. There are some Americans who go there. We as a State Department provide our country-specific travel information. That’s the role we take.
Later, he added:
This was an – absolutely a private trip by a private individual. We have done various forms of diplomacy to connect the people of different – of countries with whom we don’t have a good relationship. We have no ill will toward the people of North Korea, just as we have no ill will toward the people of Iran. And so we have had, over time, diplomacy that we’ve done to, quite frankly, connect people in some of these countries. But this was a private [trip] …
As one reporter points out to Ventrell, however, it’s not inconceivable that the State Department would take a position on the trip. When Google chairman Eric Schmidt made his “private, humanitarian mission” to North Korea in January, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland criticized his timing -- North Korea had just tested a long-range rocket. It has since gone on to a recent nuclear test, its third since 2006.
That’s not all -- as The Post’s Max Fisher unpacked on Feb. 26, Rodman’s visit could definitely read as valuable, legitimacy-bestowing propaganda for Kim Jong Eun’s regime. In the words of North Korea scholar B.R. Myers, “by respectfully visiting North Korean tourist sites in view of the locals, [American tourists] are serving to reinforce the personality cult, just as those foreigners did in earlier decades who allowed themselves to be photographed while grinning down at one of Kim Il Sung’s books.”
While the State Department wouldn’t take a position on that issue, Ventrell did say it would take any intel Rodman could provide.
“We haven’t been in touch with this party at all,” he said. But: “If there are Americans who after traveling in North Korea want to get in touch with us or have something to share with us, we take the phone calls.”
See photos from Rodman's trip.