Dennis Rodman asks a favor of BFF Kim Jong Un: Free the American prisoner

Dennis Rodman moved Tuesday to turn his “basketball diplomacy” trip from January into actual diplomacy, tweeting a message asking his “friend for life” Kim Jong Un to release American prisoner Kenneth Bae, who was sentenced last week to 15 years in a labor prison.


Bae has been in prison in North Korea for over six months on the murky charge of “committing hostile acts” against the state. Bae, 44, was in North Korea working as a tour guide and it’s believed the offense that got him nabbed was taking pictures of starving citizens or public executions.

Bae’s imprisonment and last week’s sentencing has been a sticky diplomatic situation for Obama administration as it seeks leverage to force Kim Jong Un to resume talks on US and UN terms—namely, abandoning its nuclear program. The Hill points out “some foreign policy experts have suggested [Bae’s] sentencing is a ploy to get the United States back to the negotiating table, in hopes of removing sanctions put in place following a nuclear test earlier this year.” The Administration has tried to thread the needle of demanding Bae’s release without actually resuming talks with North Korea. “There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad, and we urge the [North Korean] authorities to grant Mr. Bae amnesty and immediate release,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said last Thursday, without actually addressing the country directly.

Enter Dennis Rodman.

When the world’s most flamboyant NBA star visited North Korea in January with the Harlem Globetrotters and some correspondents from Vice, the trip was denounced by media all over (including this site) as tasteless profiteering at the expense of North Koreans’ suffering. Even treason.

But Tuesday Rodman responded directly to a challenge from Seattle Times to use his unusual access to Kim to do some good. Following up his initial tweet, he acknowledged his call was the result of the Times’ prodding:


In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos following his trip in January Rodman tried to place himself diplomatically between Obama and North Korea’s dictator, saying, “He wants Obama to do one thing: Call him.” He even advocated for Kim: “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.”

At the time White House press secretary Jay Carney called Rodman’s basketball diplomacy “unhelpful.” It’ll be interesting to see if Kim Jong Un reciprocates the warm fuzzy feelings that Rodman has for him and does Rodman the “solid” of freeing Bae.

If it does, Rodman will prove to be pretty helpful after all– and pretty embarrassing for the Obama administration at the same time.