Ex-NBA star Rodman says North Korea's Kim wants Obama to call

Sun Mar 3, 2013 2:47pm EST
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By Bill Trott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Dennis Rodman, the former NBA star known more for his body piercings and tattoos than international diplomacy skills, said on Sunday he returned from North Korea with a message from its leader Kim Jong-un for President Barack Obama - "call me."

Rodman appeared on ABC's "This Week" program a few days after an unlikely meeting with Kim in the North Korea capital Pyongyang, where Rodman was working on a documentary about basketball.

With the international community concerned about North Korea's nuclear weapons program and continued belligerence, Rodman had extremely rare access to Kim. They attended a basketball game, where they were seen laughing and talking at courtside, and also had dinner together.

"He wants Obama to do one thing - call him," Rodman said. "He said, 'If you can, Dennis - I don't want (to) do war. I don't want to do war.' He said that to me."

Rodman said he told Kim, who followed his father and grandfather as leader of the isolated totalitarian nation in December 2011, that his love of basketball could serve as a foundation of a relationship with the U.S. president, who also is a basketball fan and plays regularly.

"(Kim) loves basketball. And I said the same thing. I said, ‘Obama loves basketball.' Let's start there," Rodman said.

The U.S. government disavowed any connection to Rodman's trip. When asked about Kim's "call me" message, Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said on Sunday the United States already has communication channels with North Korea.

"We have urged the North Korean leadership to heed President Obama's call to choose the path of peace and come into compliance with its international obligations," Hayden said. "Instead of spending money on staging sporting events, the North Korean regime should focus on the well-being of its own people who have been starved, imprisoned and denied their human rights."   Continued...

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman (front L) hug in Pyongyang in this undated picture released by North Korea's KCNA news agency on March 1, 2013. REUTERS/KCNA