Flamboyant former basketball star Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea yesterday for a five-day visit, his second this year, but said he had no plans to negotiate the release of a jailed American missionary.
There was speculation that Rodman, who met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in March, would secure the release of Kenneth Bae, who was jailed for 15 years for trying to overthrow the North Korean government.
"I'm not going to North Korea to discuss freeing Kenneth Bae," Rodman said before he left Beijing for Pyongyang. "I'm just going there on another basketball diplomacy tour."
Kim, the third of his line to rule North Korea, is a basketball fan and appeared to get on well with Rodman on the earlier visit, with the two of them pictured laughing, eating and drinking together and watching an all-star basketball match.
Wearing his trademark dark sunglasses, Rodman pushed through a crowd of journalists at Beijing's international airport. "I'm just trying to go over there to meet my friend Kim, the Marshal," Rodman said. "Try to start a basketball league over there, something like that."
Asked if he was bringing any of his own brand of vodka to North Korea, Rodman chuckled and said no. "They love whiskey. They love tequila. They love vodka, stuff like this, so, hopefully we'll go to have a nice dinner, sit there and talk," said Rodman.
North Korea cancelled a visit by Robert King, the US special envoy on North Korean human rights issues, to Pyongyang last week on what the US State Department said was a "humanitarian mission" to negotiate the release of Bae.
King's trip was initially seen as a signal that relations between Washington and Pyongyang might start to improve. North Korea said it withdrew the invitation because of military drills last week by the US and South Korea.
Rodman drew fire for his earlier trip to Pyongyang at a time when North Korea was threatening the US, South Korea and Japan with missile strikes.
He called Kim, 30, who rules unchallenged in a country where there are an estimated 150,000-200,000 prisoners in work camps, "an awesome kid".
Bae, a Korean American who had been working as a Christian missionary in China and North Korea, was arrested last year and sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for plotting to overthrow the state.