Dennis Rodman, the former NBA bad boy who has palled around with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, flew back to Pyongyang yesterday for the first time in Donald Trump's presidency. He said he is "just trying to open a door" on a mission that he thinks his former "Celebrity Apprentice" boss would support. Rodman, one of the few people to know both of the nuclear-armed leaders, sported a black T-shirt advertising a marijuana cybercurrency as he talked to reporters briefly before his flight from Beijing to the North Korean capital. Asked if he had spoken to Trump about his trip, he said, "Well, I'm pretty sure he's pretty much happy with the fact that I'm over here trying to accomplish something that we both need."
Rodman has received the red-carpet treatment on four past trips since 2013, but has been roundly criticized for visiting during a time of high tensions between the U.S. and North Korea over its weapons programs. His entourage includes Joseph Terwilliger, a professor who has accompanied Rodman on previous trips to North Korea. Rodman said the issue of several Americans currently detained by North Korea is "not my purpose right now." In Tokyo, a visiting senior U.S. official said Rodman is making the trip as 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," U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon told reporters after discussing the North Korean missile threat and other issues with Japanese counterparts. In 2014, Rodman arranged a basketball game with other former NBA players and North Koreans and regaled leader Kim with a rendition of "Happy Birthday."
On the same trip, he suggested that an American missionary was at fault for his own imprisonment in North Korea, remarks for which he later apologized. A North Korean foreign ministry official said Rodman would stay until Saturday. Any visit to North Korea by a high-profile American is a political minefield, and Rodman has been criticized for failing to use his influence on leaders who are otherwise isolated diplomatically from the rest of the world.