by WorldTribune Staff, June 13, 2017
Sports diplomacy is on display on two fronts in North Korea.
Ex-basketball star Dennis Rodman is traveling to North Korea “as a private citizen” for another visit to the communist nation, a senior Trump administration official confirmed to Fox News.
As Rodman headed to Pyongyang, South Korea’s liberal president Moon Jae-In offered to co-host the 2030 World Cup soccer tournament with North Korea, saying it would “contribute to peace between South and North Korea.”
Rodman, a member of the NBA Hall of Fame, previously traveled to North Korea in January 2014. On that trip, Rodman sang “Happy Birthday” to Kim Jong-Un, who referred to Rodman as his “best friend.”
“Dennis is not a stupid guy,” President Donald Trump said at the time. “He’s smart in many ways, he’s very street wise.”
In Beijing before flying on to Pyongyang, Rodman told CNN he was “pretty sure” U.S. President Donald Trump was aware “that I’m over here trying to accomplish something that we both need.”
Stephan Haggard, professor of Korea-Pacific Studies at UCLA San Diego, told Time.com that Rodman never officially represented President Barack Obama on his previous trips. “But with this administration, who knows?” he said. “You can’t rule it out.”
Rodman is on good terms with Trump, having appeared twice on The Celebrity Apprentice. In March said he was would agree to speak on Trump’s behalf with Kim.
The 2014 trip also featured Rodman and a team of former NBA players taking part in a pickup game as part of what Rodman called “basketball diplomacy.”
Rodman also appeared as a contestant on the NBC show “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2013.
Meanwhile, during a June 12 meeting with FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea’s Moon proposed to co-host the 2030 World Cup with North Korea and other Northeast Asian nations.
“If neighboring Northeast Asian countries including South and North Korea can host the World Cup, I think that would contribute to peace between South and North Korea and in the Northeast Asian region,” Moon told Infantino, according to Moon’s office.
“I would like President Infantino to have interests on this matter.”
As co-host, North Korea would get an automatic bid to the tournament. North Korea has qualified for two World Cups, in 1966 and 2010. It did not qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia.
Infantino was quoted as saying he respects Moon’s idea and that he will talk to Chinese President Xi Jinping about it when the two meet later this week.
China and Japan reportedly want to host World Cup games individually. South Korea and Japan co-hosted the 2002 World Cup.
On June 13, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old college student arrested, tried and imprisoned in North Korea for more than a year for allegedly trying to steal a souvenir from a hotel, has been released but is reportedly in a coma, Fox News said, citing multiple sources.
Warmbier served just over a year of his 15-year sentence.
“At the direction of the president, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea,” Tillerson said. “Mr. Warmbier is en route to the United States, where he will be reunited with his family. The Department of State continues to have discussions with the DPRK regarding three other U.S. citizens reported detained.”
North Korea has disclosed and tested four new missile systems this year and boasts it is close to having a working nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile.