In another bizarre twist in modern politics, former NBA player Dennis Rodman is praising President Donald 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 [sic] Kim Jong-un and his family.”
In recent years, the 56-year-old former power forward has famously 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, of 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.”
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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 has in the past tried to distance himself from both Rodman’s “basketball diplomacy” and North Korea.
“Crazy Dennis Rodman is saying I wanted to go to North Korea with him. Never discussed, no interest, last place on Earth I want to go to,” Trump tweeted in 2014.
If the talks do take place, 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.
This week’s White House announcement comes amid months of heightened nuclear tensions between the two nations’ leaders, with both Trump and Kim exchanging escalating threats.
As The Post reported Thursday, the White House emphasized that North Korea’s invitation had 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 had ratcheted up sanctions in 2017. The most recent 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 on 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 the effort to coerce 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.
— — — The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker contributed to this report.