Rodman visit irks White House

Updated: March 4, 2013, 4:25 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The White House says North Korea's government should be focused on the well-being of its citizens, not on "celebrity sporting events" to entertain the country's elite.

White House spokesman Jay Carney made the comments in response to a question about ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman's recent visit to North Korea. Rodman watched a basketball game with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

He's a good guy to me. As a person to person, he's my friend. I don't condone what he does.

-- Dennis Rodman, on North Korea leader Kim Jong Un

Upon his return to the U.S., Rodman said Kim wants President Barack Obama to call him. Carney says the U.S. already has direct channels of communication to North Korea's government and those are the channels it will continue to use.

"He loves basketball. ... I said Obama loves basketball. Let's start there" as a way to warm up relations between U.S. and North Korea, Rodman told ABC's "This Week."

"He asked me to give Obama something to say and do one thing. He wants Obama to do one thing, call him," said Rodman, who called the authoritarian leader an "awesome guy" during his trip. The State Department criticized North Korea last week for "wining and dining" Rodman while its own people go hungry.

Rodman also said Kim told him, "I don't want to do war. I don't want to do war."

Yet in January, after the U.N. Security Council voted to condemn the North's successful rocket launch in December and expand penalties against Kim's government, his National Defense Commission said in a statement that "settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with words." The statement also promised "a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle that has lasted century after century."

[+] EnlargeDennis Rodman
Courtesy VICEDennis Rodman and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un share a laugh while watching the Harlem Globetrotters on Thursday.

North Korea and the U.S. fought on opposite sides of the three-year Korean War, which ended in a truce in 1953. The foes technically remain at war. They never signed a peace treaty and do not have diplomatic relations.

Rodman was the highest-profile American to meet Kim since Kim inherited power from father Kim Jong Il in 2011. He traveled to the secretive state with the Harlem Globetrotters team for a new HBO series produced by New York-based VICE television.

The visit took place amid rising tensions between the countries.

North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test two weeks ago, making clear the provocative act was a warning to the United States to drop what it considers a "hostile" policy toward the North.

Rodman said he was aware of North Korea's human rights record, which the State Department has characterized as one of the worst in the world, but said he wasn't apologizing for Kim.

"He's a good guy to me," Rodman said, adding, that "as a person to person, he's my friend. I don't condone what he does."

Basketball is popular in North Korea, and Thursday's exhibition game with two Americans playing on each team alongside North Koreans ended in a 110-110 tie. Following the game Kim threw an "epic feast" for the group, plying them with food and drinks and making round after round of toasts.

Rodman's trip was the second attention-grabbing American visit this year to North Korea. Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, made a four-day trip in January, but did not meet Kim.

Rodman said he planned to go back to North Korea to "find out more what's really going on."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.


Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press

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