In another bizarre twist in modern politics, former NBA player Dennis Rodman is praising President Trump after the White House announced Trump had agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for talks by the end of May.
“Well done President Trump,” Rodman told The Washington Post in a statement through his agent. “You're on the way to a historical meeting no U.S. president has ever done. I'm looking forward to bringing more basketball diplomacy to North Korea in the upcoming months. Please send my regards to Marshall Kim Jong-un and his family.”
In recent years, the 56-year-old former power forward has made several trips to North Korea to meet with Kim to bring what he calls “basketball diplomacy” to the isolated Asian country. Rodman has also been heavily criticized for building rapport with a man widely considered to be a cruel dictator rather than using his visits to push for the release of Americans held captive in North Korea.
Rodman has maintained that he is not a diplomat. “Well, that's not my purpose right now,” Rodman told reporters in June as he was embarking on his most recent trip to North Korea. “My purpose is to go over there and try to see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea.”
U.S. officials stressed that Rodman was not representing the U.S. government or the White House during his visit last June, though Rodman suggested at the time that Trump was pleased that he was making another trip.
“I'm pretty sure he's happy at the fact that I'm over here trying to accomplish something that we both need,” Rodman said then, according to CNN.
Trump and Rodman became acquainted when the former Pistons and Bulls player, nicknamed “The Worm,” appeared as a contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2013. Trump fired Rodman from the show after he reportedly misspelled Melania Trump's name during a team exercise.
Trump has previously tried to distance himself from both Rodman's “basketball diplomacy” and North Korea. He once tweeted that North Korea was the “last place on Earth I want to go” and accused Rodman of being “delusional” for suggesting he wanted to accompany the retired basketball player there on a trip.
Rodman is one of only two people to have met both Trump and Kim. The other is South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong, who extended the invitation from Kim to Trump during a visit to Washington this week.
If the talks occur, Trump would become the first sitting president — and the second star of NBC's “The Celebrity Apprentice” — to meet face to face with the North Korean leader. The proposed meeting follows months of heightened nuclear tensions between the two nations' leaders. Since Trump took office, he and Kim have repeatedly exchanged threats — and outright insults, at times — about each other’s nuclear arsenal. Trump has called Kim “Little Rocket Man” and a “madman.” Kim has called Trump a “deranged U.S. dotard,” a “lunatic” and a “loser.”
As The Post reported Thursday, the White House emphasized that North Korea's invitation included a “commitment to denuclearization” and that the United States would demand confirmation that Pyongyang was meeting its obligations in any prospective deal.
In December, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to impose additional sanctions on North Korea because of its missile tests, the third time the Security Council has ratcheted up sanctions in 2017. The latest round tightened North Korea’s oil imports and called on other countries to expel North Korean guest workers within two years. Those guest workers are a major source of foreign income for Pyongyang, and two of the biggest employers of North Koreans are Security Council members China and Russia.
The sanctions were part of an effort to pressure the North Korean government into negotiating an end to its development of nuclear weapons. But in defiance, North Korea deemed the sanctions as an “act of war,” and Pyongyang vowed to bolster its nuclear force in an outright rejection of the resolution.
“We define this ‘sanctions resolution’ rigged by the U.S. and its followers as a grave infringement upon the sovereignty of our republic and as an act of war violating peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and the region,” North Korea's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on state media in December.
Philip Rucker contributed to this report.