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Dennis Rodman has delivered a message from President Donald Trump to North Korea — sort of.
On Thursday, the former NBA player gave the country’s sports minister a copy of Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal,” a present intended for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
It wasn’t signed by Trump, who was Rodman’s boss for two seasons of the Celebrity Apprentice reality TV show. Rodman has said his visit has nothing to do with the White House.
It has so far been a low-key Pyongyang trip for the often flamboyant celebrity, who has visited the North four times before. While his previous visits in 2013 and 2014 often drew controversy, Rodman has said this week he’s just here to meet old friends and have a good time.
He and his small entourage have been spending time hanging out with young North Korean basketball players and visiting local sights.
He watched a North Korean men’s basketball team and met Sports Minister Kim Il Guk. Along with the Trump book, other gifts he presented for Kim Jong-un include a copy of “Where’s Waldo? The Totally Essential Travel Collection,” a mermaid puzzle, two sets of soap and two autographed jerseys.
Rodman also met North Korean Olympic athletes, including judo gold medalist An Kum Ae.
“All of you guys should be proud of yourselves, because, you know, a lot of people don’t give you guys credit, because this is such a small country, and not many people from North Korea can compete around the world,” Rodman said.
He continued: “But for you guys to come back here in your country, with a medal, that says a lot about North Korea, because people don’t really take North Korea so seriously about sports or anything like that.”
Rodman, one of the only Westerners to have personally met Kim Jong-un, has been criticized for a prior trip where he sang “Happy Birthday” to Kim and suggested an American missionary was at fault for his own imprisonment in North Korea, remarks for which he later apologized.
But the sports minister made clear Rodman is viewed fondly in Pyongyang.
“In the past, our respected supreme leader met you several times and he used his precious time to watch the basketball match with the players you brought here. In the past he met you, so our people all know you well,” Kim Il Guk told Rodman. “And also we feel that you are an old friend.”
Rodman’s arrival on Tuesday came just hours after the North decided to release Otto Warmbier, an American university student who had been imprisoned for 15 years with hard labor for trying to steal a propaganda banner.
Warmbier, who had been confined for 17 months, has apparently fallen into a coma not long after his confinement began and Pyongyang issued a statement Thursday saying it decided to let him go for “humanitarian reasons.”
Officials in Washington and Pyongyang said Rodman played no role in the release. Behind-the-scenes discussions regarding Warmbier had been underway well before his visit.
The 22-year-old Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate, was convicted and sentenced in a one-hour trial in North Korea’s Supreme Court in March 2016. He got 15 years in prison with hard labor for subversion after he tearfully confessed that he had tried to steal the propaganda banner.
His father, Fred Warmbier, told Fox News that his son was “terrorized and brutalized” and has been in a coma for more than a year. The report of Warmbier’s release on the North’s official Korean Central News Agency made no mention of Warmbier’s health.
Although U.S. citizens are not banned from visiting North Korea, the U.S. State Department strongly advises against it. With Warmbier’s release, three other Americans remain imprisoned in North Korea.
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