Rodman Visits Jim Jong Un In Palace

(Image 1)

SEOUL, South
Korea (AP) — Ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman hung out Thursday with North
Korea's Kim Jong Un on the third day of his improbable journey with
VICE to Pyongyang, watching the Harlem Globetrotters with the leader and
later dining on sushi and drinking with him at his palace.

“You
have a friend for life,” Rodman told Kim before a crowd of thousands at
a gymnasium where they sat side by side, chatting as they watched
players from North Korea and the U.S. play, Alex Detrick, a spokesman
for the New York-based VICE media company, told The Associated Press.

Rodman
arrived in Pyongyang on Monday with three members of the professional
Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, VICE correspondent Ryan Duffy and a
production crew to shoot an episode on North Korea for a new weekly HBO
series.

The unlikely encounter makes Rodman
the most high-profile American to meet Kim since the young North Korean
leader took power in December 2011, and takes place against a backdrop
of tension between Washington and Pyongyang. North Korea conducted an
underground nuclear test just 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.

Kim,
a diehard basketball fan, told the former Chicago Bulls star he hoped
the visit would break the ice between the United States and North Korea,
VICE founder Shane Smith said.

Dressed in a
blue Mao suit, Kim laughed and slapped his hands on the table before him
during the game as he sat nearly knee to knee with Rodman. Rodman, the
man who once turned up in a wedding dress to promote his autobiography,
wore a dark suit and dark sunglasses, but still had on his nose rings
and other piercings. A can of Coca-Cola sat on the table before him in
photos shared with AP by VICE.

“The crowd was
really engaged, laughed at all of the Globetrotters antics, and actually
got super loud towards the end as the score got close,” said Duffy, who
suited up for the game in a blue uniform emblazoned with “United States
of America. “Most fun I've had in a while.”

Kim
and Rodman chatted in English, but Kim primarily spoke in Korean
through a translator, Smith said after speaking to the VICE crew in
Pyongyang.

“They bonded during the game,”
Smith said by telephone from New York after speaking to the crew. “They
were both enjoying the crazy shots, and the Harlem Globetrotters were
putting on quite a show.”

The surprise visit
by the flamboyant Hall of Famer known as “The Worm” makes him an
unlikely ambassador at a time when North Koreans are girding for battle
with the U.S. Just last week, Kim guided frontline troops in military
exercises.

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 never signed a peace treaty, and do not have diplomatic
relations.

Thursday's game ended in a 110-110
draw, with two Americans playing on each team alongside North Koreans,
Detrick said. The Xinhua News Agency first reported on the game, citing
witnesses who attended.

After the game, Rodman
addressed Kim in a speech before a crowd of tens of thousands of North
Koreans, telling him, “You have a friend for life,” Detrick said.

At
a lavish dinner at Kim's palace, the leader plied the group with food
and drinks as the group made round after round of toasts.

“Dinner
was an epic feast. Felt like about 10 courses in total,” Duffy said in
an email to AP. “I'd say the winners were the smoked turkey and sushi,
though we had the Pyongyang cold noodles earlier in the trip and that's
been the runaway favorite so far.”

Duffy said he invited Kim to visit the United States, a proposal met with hearty laughter from the North Korean leader.

“Um
… so Kim Jong Un just got the (hash)VICEonHBO crew wasted … no
really, that happened,” VICE producer Jason Mojica wrote on Twitter.

Rodman's
trip is the second attention-grabbing U.S. visit this year to North
Korea. Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, made a four-day trip
in January to Pyongyang, but did not meet the North Korean leader.

Extending
an invitation to a man known as much for his piercings, tattoos and bad
behavior as for his basketball may seem inexplicable. But Kim is known
to love the NBA, and has promoted sports since becoming leader.

“We
knew that he's a big lover of basketball, especially the Bulls, and it
was our intention going in that we would have a good-will mission of
something that's fun,” Smith said. “A lot of times, things just are
serious and everybody's so concerned with geopolitics that we forget
just to be human beings.”

Rodman's agent, Darren Prince, said Rodman wasn't concerned about criticism about making a visit to an enemy nation.

“Dennis
called me last night and said it's been a great experience and he made
this trip out of the love of the USA ,” he said. “It's all about peace
and love.”

Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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