PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Dennis Rodman’s visit to North Korea has been uncharacteristically low-key so far. On the agenda? Bowling and a visit to the zoo.
There is no clear sign that the former NBA bad boy will meet leader Kim Jong Un, as he did on previous visits to the isolated country. Such a meeting, though, typically wouldn’t be announced in advance.
Rodman watched a women’s basketball team practice at a gym Wednesday and visited the birthplace of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of the current leader. He refused to answer questions about his trip, saying only, “A little hot, baby, it’s a little hot. But it’s cool, it’s cool.”
What, if anything, substantive Rodman is doing in North Korea remains unclear. He has said he is just going to have a good time but has also hinted he is “trying to open a door” for better relations between Washington and Pyongyang.
He is scheduled to meet the sports minister, visit a newly built high-tech science complex and the Pyongyang Zoo, and go bowling before he leaves Saturday.
His four past trips in 2013 and 2014 generated a storm of publicity, most of it unfavorable, and did little in terms of diplomacy. Critics of engagement with North Korea say Rodman’s visits legitimize the country’s ruling regime.
In 2014, Rodman arranged a basketball game with other former NBA players and North Koreans and regaled leader Kim with a rendition of “Happy Birthday.” On the same trip, he suggested an American missionary was at fault for his own imprisonment in North Korea, remarks for which he later apologized.
Americans are regarded as enemies in North Korea because the two countries never signed a peace treaty at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Thousands of U.S. troops are based in South Korea, and the Demilitarized Zone between the North and South is one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world.
U.S and North Korean officials say Rodman had nothing to do with the release of American student Otto Warmbier, who had been serving a 15-year sentence in a North Korean prison for alleged anti-state acts. A plane carrying Warmbier arrived late Tuesday at an airport in Cincinnati.
Three other Americans remain imprisoned in North Korea.