Former NBA star Dennis Rodman met North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in a highly anticipated return trip to the hermetic state, official media said Saturday in a report that made no mention of jailed American Kenneth Bae.
The flamboyant ex-forward for the Chicago Bulls arrived in Pyongyang earlier this week, playing down an earlier pledge to try to free the Korean-American tour operator who has been held prisoner since November.
In a short report issued early Saturday by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, Kim Jong-Un was quoted as saying that Rodman “might visit the DPRK (North Korea) any time and spend pleasant days”.
Rodman was reported to have thanked his host for his “expression of good faith towards the Americans” and presented Kim and his wife a gift. The pair also watched a basketball game together.
There had been speculation that Rodman would try to use his budding friendship with Kim, whom he declared a “friend for life” after a previous trip six months ago, to help free Bae.
Bae was arrested in November 2012 as he entered the hardline communist state’s northeastern port city of Rason.
North Korea, which bans religious proselytising, said Bae was a Christian evangelist who brought in “inflammatory” material.
He was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour earlier this year on charges of trying to topple the North Korea regime.
Xinhua said Rodman had been invited by the North’s sports authority and his entourage included Michael Spavor, a Canadian who runs an education exchange scheme called the Pyongyang Project.
Also accompanying him was Joseph Terwilliger, an associate professor of neuroscience at Columbia University in New York.