Dennis Rodman, the former NBA basketball player and friend of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, flew to Pyongyang yesterday on a trip he says he hopes will “open a door” for his former “Celebrity Apprentice” boss US President Donald Trump.
Rodman, one of the few people to know both of the nuclear-armed leaders, talked to reporters briefly before boarding his flight from Beijing to the North Korean capital.
Rodman’s arrival in Pyongyang was relatively low-key and his schedule remained a mystery.
He was met by North Korean vice minister of Sports Son Kwang Ho. Officials said he was to stay until Saturday. He passed through customs and immigration at Pyongyang’s airport before being whisked away to his hotel.
“I’m just here to see some friends and have a good time,” he said.
Rodman has received the red-carpet treatment on his four trips since 2013, which generated a lot of publicity – and did little in terms of diplomacy. On this trip, he has already been criticised by some for visiting during a time of high tensions between the US and North Korea over its weapons programmes and recent missile launches.
When asked if Mr Trump was aware of the trip, Rodman 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.”
Asked about several Americans currently detained by North Korea, he said: “Not my purpose right now.”
In Tokyo, a visiting senior US 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,” US 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 Mr Kim with a rendition of Happy Birthday. On the same trip, he suggested an American missionary was at fault for his own imprisonment in North Korea, remarks for which he later apologised.
Any visit to North Korea by a high-profile American is a political minefield.
Rodman has been criticised for failing to use his influence on leaders who are otherwise isolated diplomatically from the rest of the world. He has generally brushed off such criticism as unfair.