BEIJING – Calling North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un his "friend for life," while using expletives to refer to President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a defiant Dennis Rodman arrived in Beijing from Pyongyang Saturday, after a four-day trip to one of the most secretive nations in the world.
The former NBA star did not return with the jailed U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae, and refused to answer questions about him. U.S. authorities had hoped Pyongyang would release Bae to a U.S. envoy whose planned trip to North Korea was cancelled by the North in late August.
Previously, Rodman had urged Kim to release Bae, and had said he would ask Kim to do so on his second trip to the isolated nation this year. Sporting a silver sequined beret-style hat and shouting obscenities at journalists, Dennis Rodman remained his usual colorful self after arriving at Beijing airport.
Expressing anger at reporters' questions about Bae, he told them to ask Obama and Clinton, using an expletive to refer to them. Earlier, toting an unlit cigar, Rodman showed photographs of himself together with Kim, the third generation of North Korea's ruling family dynasty. Kim had enjoyed Rodman's newly launched Bad Boy brand vodka, said Rodman.
He and Kim had discussed "peace" and "sports", and Rodman revealed his next step in his self-appointed basketball diplomacy mission with the North. Pointing to a new T-shirt with a basketball logo, Rodman said "I am doing this game here, an international game in North Korea, with their team and my team, hopefully it can do some really good stuff."
Rodman remained defiant about his highly unlikely friendship with the North Korean leader, who he first met in February. "He's my friend for life. I don't care what you guys think about him. I don't give a shit what people around the world think about him," he said. "He's my friend, and you saw it on the pictures, he's my friend."
Rodman's trip was sponsored by the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, and is not endorsed by the U.S. government.
Bae was arrested in North Korea in November after officials there discovered he was carrying a computer hard disk that contained pictures of malnourished North Korean orphans. They prosecuted him for several crimes, including the conducting of a smear campaign against the government. The government said in statements that Bae was charged with "hostile acts against the republic." Bae was sentenced in May to 15 years of hard labor for crimes against the state.
After three days of silence about Rodman's activities inside the highly isolated nation, the North's state news agency KCNA confirmed Rodman had met Kim. Kim called Rodman a "friend to the nation" and invited him to visit anytime to "rest and enjoy pleasant days," the agency reported.
On his departure for Pyongyang Tuesday, Rodman denied he would ask for Bae's freedom. Previously, Rodman had urged Kim to release Bae, and had said he would ask Kim to do so on his second trip to the isolated nation this year.
U.S. envoy Ambassador Robert King had planned to visit Pyongyang in late August, to secure Bae's release on humanitarian grounds, until North Korea cancelled his trip at the last moment. Bae's family is worried about his health in the harsh conditions of North Korea's labor camps.
Rodman and Kim had a "cordial talk," watched a basketball game together, and Kim hosted a banquet for Rodman, together with Kim's wife Ri Sol Ju, reported KCNA without giving any dates. Rodman thanked Kim for his "expression of good faith towards the Americans" and presented the couple with a gift, said KCNA.
The visit deepens a relationship that no other American enjoys with Kim, the third generation of North Korea's family dynasty of rulers. On leaving Beijing for Pyongyang, Rodman told USA TODAY he wanted to "bridge a gap" between the peoples of the two countries. North Korea's real motives are harder to fathom.
At the start of his trip, China's state news agency Xinhua said Rodman's party would give a basketball clinic, watch taekwondo and women's soccer, and visit the Mount Kumgang resort.