Former NBA star Dennis Rodman was a dinner guest of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday, the reclusive nation’s state-run news agency reported. But there was no immediate indication whether the flamboyant sportsman had made a plea for Pyongyang to free a jailed Korean American missionary.
Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old tour guide and evangelist, was arrested upon entering the North Korean city of Rason in November. He was summarily tried for “hostile acts against the state” and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
Rodman, an NBA Hall of Famer and former player with Kim’s favorite Chicago Bulls, flew from Beijing to Pyongyang on Tuesday, his second trip to see the eccentric North Korean leader, whom he has referred to as a “friend” and “an awesome kid.”
Rodman is the only American known to have met Kim since he inherited the North Korean leadership in December 2011. After visiting in February, Rodman vowed to return to Pyongyang and appealed to Kim via Twitter for the North Korean “to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.”
News services in Pyongyang reported that the Korean Central News Agency announced Friday that Rodman and Kim had “a cordial talk” and watched a basketball game together, and that the communist leader had hosted a dinner for Rodman.
There was no indication in the KCNA report of whether Kim and Rodman discussed the Bae case, or whether Rodman was still in North Korea, the FreeDistrict.com independent Asia-Pacific news site reported.
The report said Kim had invited Rodman to visit again “any time.”
The Nelson Report, a private emailed newsletter compiled by global security wonks, reported Friday what it called a “hot rumor” that Rodman, upon return to the United States, “may bring with him a special package which goes beyond basketball.” It quoted unnamed sources, and might have been purely speculation based on Rodman’s unique relationship with Kim.
No other avenue appears to be open for seeking freedom for Bae.
Robert King, the U.S. State Department special envoy for North Korean rights issues, had been expected to visit Pyongyang last week and sound out North Korean officials on the prospects of an early release for Bae, who is in poor health, according to family members in Washington state.
The North Korean Foreign Ministry, however, retracted King’s invitation, saying the diplomatic atmosphere had been soured by recent U.S. air maneuvers over South Korea.