TOKYO — Dennis Rodman has returned from a five-day trip to North Korea, but he did not meet with a man he once called his “friend for life” — Kim Jong Un.
The colorful retired basketball player did not speak to reporters waiting for him when he arrived in Beijing after leaving Pyongyang.
After a disastrous trip in 2014, Rodman’s fifth journey into North Korea seemed to be something of a redemption tour. It was relatively low-key and passed without major controversy.
Rodman was widely criticized for singing happy birthday to Kim Jong Un from the basketball court during a trip to the isolated state in 2014, and also for an angry and apparently drunken television interview in which he suggested that an American imprisoned in North Korea had deserved his punishment. Soon after returning to the United States, Rodman went into rehab.
This time, Rodman visited important Kim regime monuments, coached a women’s basketball team, and presented gifts to his host, the sports minister, to pass on to Kim Jong Un. They included two autographed basketball jerseys, soap sets, a mermaid jigsaw and a “Where’s Waldo?” book for Kim’s daughter – and a copy of Donald Trump’s “The Art of the Deal.”
He did not do any media interviews, although he did tweet a video he’d made before going to Pyongyang, presenting the trip as an effort to broker peace between the United States and North Korea.
“That’s the main reason why we’re going,” Rodman said in the video. “We’re trying to bring everything together. If not, at least we tried,” he said. “We're trying to open doors between both countries.”
The other times he tweeted from Pyongyang, it was all about the Detroit Pistons, one of his former teams.
When he went to North Korea, there was some expectation that Rodman would try to secure the release of four Americans being held hostage there, although the NBA veteran said that was not his mission.
In what people involved described as a “bizarre coincidence,” a senior State Department official was already on a secret mission in Pyongyang, collecting Otto Warmbier, a college student arrested in January last year and who was discovered only last week to have been in a coma for some 15 months.
Joseph Yun, the administration’s pointman on North Korea, went to Pyongyang last Monday and left on a U.S. military medical evacuation plane with Warmbier on Tuesday afternoon, just a few hours after Rodman arrived. Yun is continuing his efforts to have the remaining three hostages released.
One person involved in the negotiations said they are aiming to have the three released by the end of this month, although another suggested it could take longer than that.
Kim Dong-chul, a 63-year-old former Fairfax County resident, was arrested in October 2015, a few months before Warmbier, and accused of espionage and subversion.
Two Americans affiliated with the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a private institution run by Korean American Christians, were detained in separate incidents in April and May.
Kim Hak-song, who was an agricultural consultant at PUST, was detained in early May, barely a week after the arrest of Kim Sang-dok, also known as Tony Kim, who had been teaching a class in international finance and management at the university.
Yun met with all three during his visit to Pyongyang last week. They were reported to be in reasonable condition.