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Dennis Rodman: North Korea revisited
Flamboyant former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea after saying he wants to "open the door" to the regime, facilitating sports exchanges. He claimed that US President Donald Trump would be pleased with his mission.
His trip coincides with the dramatic release of an American student who was jailed in Pyongyang for 17 months and returned while in coma.
Sporting a baseball cap, sunglasses, multiple facial piercings and a black t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of sponsor PotCoin (a cryptocurrency for the legal cannabis industry) Rodman was greeted at Pyongyang airport by sports vice-minister Son Kwang Ho and journalists.
"I'm just trying to open the door," the ex-Chicago Bulls power forward told reporters at Beijing airport before boarding his Air Koryo flight.
Asked whether he had spoken with Trump about his trip, Rodman said: "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."
This trip is at least the fifth time that Rodman visited North Korea.
In 2014 he attracted a deluge of criticism after being filmed singing happy birthday to his "friend for life", leader Kim Jong-Un.
The latest visit comes amid high tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, which is currently holding three Americans, following a series of missile tests by the North, which have triggered tightened UN sanctions.
The 56-year-old NBA Hall of Famer, who was heavily criticized for failing to raise the plight of a jailed US missionary on a previous trip, said discussing detained US citizens was "not my purpose right now". He said in Beijing his aim is to try to "bring sports to North Korea".
He has previously described his visits -- including one in 2013 with the Harlem Globetrotters -- as "basketball diplomacy" but has been roundly criticised for failing to raise human rights issues.
A senior Trump administration official told Fox News Rodman was going to the North "as a private citizen".
Rodmans trip coincides with the release of American student Otto Warmbier, who was arrested 17 months ago and accused of committing “hostile acts” after trying to steal a political banner from a corridor in his hotel.
After a tearful confession at a televised "trial", North Korean authorities sentenced him to 15 years hard labor.
But on June 13, the same day Rodman arrived in Pyongyang, Warmbier arrived back in the US. However, he was in a coma and was transported to a hospital upon arrival.
According to the Washington Post, North Korean officials had told the US State Departments’ special representative for North Korea Joseph Yun that Warmbier had suffered food poisoning after his show trial and slid into a coma after being given a sleeping pill, seventeen months ago.
The exact conditions for Warmbier’s release are not clear. A flurry of activities involving Swedish diplomats lead to the student’s homecoming.
A State Depratment spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said that “Dennis Rodman had nothing to do with the release of Mr. Warmbier,” but US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did make a link when he tweeted that “President Trump gets Otto Warmbier out of a North Korean Prison. And we didn't have to send an airplane full of cash... just Dennis Rodman.”