WASHINGTON — Former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman’s latest “basketball diplomacy” with North Korea is keeping the focus off the brutal regime led by Kim Jong Un, a top State Department spokesman said Monday.
AP reports that Rodman is already in North Korea and that he plans a Jan 8 exhibition game as a “birthday present” to it totalitarian leader, Kim Jong Un, who Rodman has called his friend.
“As a diplomat , he is a good basketball player, but ultimately our focus should be on the suffering of the people of North Korea at the hands of the regime,” State Department Spokesman Jen Psaki told me in an e-mail.
The U.S. does not maintain diplomatic relations with North Korea; the governing regime has been accused of human rights abuses and is under international pressure because of its nuclear program.
Rodman is taking a group of former pro basketball players to the rogue nation for the exhibition game. He is playing diplomat in a society that is not free and whose leader is suspected of killing his uncle. Stories about Kim Jong Un feeding his uncle alive to starving dogs have not been confirmed.
As the State Department noted in a travel warning for U.S. citizens, “It is a criminal act in North Korea to show disrespect to the country’s former leaders, Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, or to the current leader, Kim Jong Un.”
Rodman travels as a private citizen to North Korea. He has not debriefed any U.S. diplomats after his North Korean trips.