Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who is one of the only U.S. nationals to ever meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, will take part in an event examining “alternative tools of diplomacy” to use with the North at the prestigious U.S. Military Academy in West Point this Friday.
Rodman will be joined by Dr. Joe Terwilliger – a geneticist from Columbia University who accompanied him on three of his four trips to North Korea – an event advisory released by the academy said on Saturday.
Moderated by Colonel Liam Collins, the event will examine the “role of American icons in foreign policy and diplomacy” in the context of Dennis Rodman’s multiple visits to North Korea, the event notification said, revealing few other details.
Rodman has largely stayed out of the public eye when discussing his experiences of North Korea since courting controversy through his multiple meetings with Kim Jong Un. As such, his appearance at one of the U.S.’s most prestigious military academies on Friday is notable.
“By the simple fact that West Point or the Modern War Institute is allowing a venue for its people to consider alternative perspectives on what they are probably taught about North Korea is encouraging,” said Michael Spavor, a consultant involved in Rodman’s previous trips, who manages the Paektu Cultural Exchange initiative.
“Optimistically, I hope that this institute is interested in hearing what Dennis Rodman and Dr. Terwilliger have to say in hopes that they are looking at possible alternatives for peaceful solutions on the Korean peninsula,” he said.
Dr. Andray Abrahamian, an Honorary Fellow at Macquarie University, told NK News that participants would likely benefit from the speakers’ first-hand knowledge.
“This seems like a good opportunity for the audience to hear about Kim Jong Un and his inner circle from people have directly interacted with them,” he said.
Beyond his connections to North Korea’s leader, Rodman is also known to be relatively close with U.S. President Trump, having appeared on his reality TV show “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2013 and having endorsed Trump’s presidential bid in 2015.
For his part, Trump praised Rodman in 2013 for his trips to North Korea, saying they were “smart”.
“I’m not sure this would have been organized with Trump’s knowledge, given the other things that have kept him busy his first few weeks,” said Dr. Abramahian about the possibility of a connection.
“But he did seem more positive on the Rodman visit than many people and clearly less concerned with the norms and conventions of diplomacy than previous presidents.”
ROLE IN NORTH KOREA?
If – somehow – Rodman were to re-emerge as a cultural diplomat between the U.S. and North Korea, Spavor said it is possible he could be well received by the North Korean side.
“Dennis Rodman is most definitely welcome back to Pyongyang,” Spavor said. “Personally I have had conversations with my North Korean partners who have expressed strong interest in his return visit to Pyongyang, they have asked me repeatedly when Mr. Rodman will return.”
That’s because, according to Spavor, Rodman “…left a positive impression on the leader himself and all the people that were involved including his family, their top decision makers, Korean athletes and the disabled that we worked with during our three visits.”
Adding that the DPRK has always been “interested in direct bilateral communication with the United States government,” Spavor further said he believed “sports and cultural engagement has proven in the past to lead to such face-to-face meetings and summits.”
Last Saturday the first talks planned on U.S. soil in years between former American officials and a visiting senior North Korean government delegation were canceled at the last minute because the U.S. Department of State decided not to issue visas to the delegation.
The former NBA hall-of-famer first visited North Korea in February 2013, accompanied by a film crew from VICE and several members of the Harlem Globetrotters. Kim Jong Un, like his father, has long been known to be a basketball fan, and the two struck up an unlikely friendship.
Rodman returned to the country twice more that year, in September as part of a five-day visit amid growing speculation he would attempt to negotiate the release of detained priest Kenneth Bae, and later in a shorter December research trip. Rodman did not return with Bae, insisting that it was “not my job” to discuss the matter with the North Korean leader.
In his final – and possibly most publicized – trip in January 2014, Rodman organized a basketball match for Kim Jong Un’s birthday. In a well-publicized incident, he lashed out at the media for its largely negative coverage of his relationship with North Korea’s leader.
Abrahamian, however, said he believed that since Rodman’s last visit in 2013, which took place amid a flurry of other cultural exchange events, attitudes had changed and so-called “citizen diplomacy” was less likely to have an impact.
“Prior to 2013 the mood was more positive on DPRK,” he said. “Things have soured since and that limits impact and interest in such things.”
Main picture: KCTV
Chad O’Carroll contributed to this report
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 880 words of this article.
Featured Image: Dennis Rodman holding hat by OPEN Sports on 2008-06-13 15:01:51