In his first interview since returning to the U.S. from an unprecedented visit to North Korea last week, former NBA star Dennis Rodman said he bears a message for President Obama from the country’s oppressive leader, Kim Jong Un.
“He wants Obama to do one thing: Call him,” Rodman told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.” “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.”
The athlete also offered Kim some diplomatic advice for potential future talks with President Obama.
“[Kim] loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, ‘Obama loves basketball.’ Let’s start there,” Rodman said.
Rodman’s comments come just days after the basketball star shocked the world with an unexpected trip to Pyongyang, North Korea, becoming the first known American to publicly meet with the mysterious Kim since he assumed command of the totalitarian nation after the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il in 2011.
The young leader has defied U.N. sanctions by continuing to develop North Korea’s nuclear arms and missile program, which he says is aimed at the U.S.
Kim is often regarded as one of the world’s most oppressive leaders, presiding over prison camps and allowing millions of his own people to starve.
Rodman likely now has more firsthand impressions of Kim than any other American. He offered some insight to Kim’s personality this morning.
“He loves power. He loves control,” Rodman said, of his new “friend.” “But guess what? He doesn’t want war. That’s one thing he doesn’t want.”
In a bizarre display of basketball diplomacy, Rodman went on the record to offer highest praise for Kim Thursday, telling reporters, “I love him. He’s awesome.”
Today on “This Week,” Rodman didn’t backtrack on those comments.
“No, I’m not apologiz[ing] for him,” Rodman said. “You know, he’s a good guy to me. Guess what? He’s my friend. I don’t condone what he does … [but] as a person to person – he’s my friend.”
Rodman traveled through Pyongyang with members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team and a camera crew from the upcoming HBO series, “VICE.” Kim warmly welcomed the Americans, with an itinerary that included ice skating, an aquarium visit and a long dinner and drinks.
During his visit, Rodman sat court side with Kim as they took in an exhibition basketball face-off with the Globetrotters and North Korean players. Kim, like his late father, is said to be a devoted basketball fan - especially for the 1990′s-era Chicago Bulls championship teams, which included Rodman. Rodman stood up to give a speech to the basketball crowd, at one point telling Kim, “You have a friend for life.”
Rodman also raised eyebrows back home when he complimented Kim’s infamous family legacy, adding, “his grandfather and his father were great leaders.”
But when Stephanopoulous pressed him on “This Week,” Rodman clarified those controversial remarks.
“What I saw in that country … I saw people respect him and his family. That’s what I mean about that,” he said on “This Week.” “They’re great leaders there.”
Rodman drew a distinction between Kim and his predecessors.
“The kid is only 28 years old. Twenty eight,” he said. “He’s not his dad. Not his grandpa. He’s 28 years old.”
Despite the unlikely pairing, Rodman said he has something in common with Kim and the North Korean people: a love of basketball.
“I’m not a politician. Kim Jung Un & North Korean people are basketball fans,” he tweeted. “I love everyone. Period. End of story.”
The U.S. State Department had no involvement in the visit, and officials say they have no plans to debrief Rodman after his meeting with one of the world’s most mysterious leaders. Col. Steve Ganyard, USMC (Ret.), a former deputy assistant secretary of state and ABC News consultant, told ABC’s Martha Raddatz the State Department’s decision is “ridiculous.”
“There is nobody at the CIA who can tell you more personally about Kim Jong Un than Dennis Rodman, and that in itself is scary,” Ganyard said.
Rodman told Stephanopoulos there are more trips to North Korea in his future.
“I’m not like a diplomat,” Rodman said. “I’m [going to] go back, do one thing and find out more, what’s going on. Find out more.”
Stephanopoulos offered Rodman the latest report from the Human Rights Watch, which outlines North Korea’s “dire human rights record” under Kim, to share with him during their next visit.
Rodman accepted the report, adding, “don’t hate me. Don’t hate me. Guess what? Don’t hate me.”
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