Ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman heads to North Korea ′to open the door′ | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 13.06.2017
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Ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman heads to North Korea 'to open the door'

US officials have wished him "well" in a trip that aims to "accomplish something we both need." On the heels of his announcement, Pyongyang released a US student who had been sentenced to hard labor.

Former US National Basketball Association (NBA) player Dennis Rodman announced on Tuesday that he would be traveling to North Korea.

Rodman, who has visited the communist nation several times before, said US President Donald Trump is happy with his visit, adding that it aims "to accomplish something we both need."

"I'm just trying to open the door," the flamboyant ex-basketball told reporters at Beijing's international airport.

Tensions between Pyongyang and Washington have increased since Trump took office in January. However, the US president has expressed openness to meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"If it would be appropriate to me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it," Trump told the New York-based Bloomberg News Agency in May.

Read more: North Korea attempts to split South Korea-US security alliance

US Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon told reporters in Tokyo that Rodman was visiting North Korea as a private citizen, and reiterated Washington's travel warnings to US nationals.

"We are aware of his visit. We wish him well. But we have issued travel warnings to Americans and suggested they not travel to North Korea for their own safety," Shannon said.

Mere hours later, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that 22-year-old student Otto Warmbier had been released by Pyongyang in spite of being sentenced to 15 years hard labor after he tried to steal a propanganda poster while visiting the isolated nation. Tillerson did not comment on whether Rodman's announcement had anything to do with Warmbier's release.

According to Warmbier's parents, their son had to leave North Korea on a medical airplane, as he has been in a coma since shortly after his trial.

Dennis Rodman (right) has described the North Korean leader as an awesome kid

Dennis Rodman (right) has described the North Korean leader as "an awesome kid"

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula

The US and its regional allies have voiced concerns over North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missiles programs, with Trump warning that open conflict may emerge if Pyongyang continues to act aggressively.

However, South Korea last week announced it will hold off on the development of a contentious anti-missile system dubbed the Terminal High Altitude Defense (THAAD), a move that has appeased China and marked a shift in policy under Seoul's new president.

Read more: Can North Korea's elites oust Kim Jong Un?

Washington has increasingly called on Beijing to do more to curb North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missiles programs.

"We desire productive relations," Secretary Tillerson said last week during a visit to Australia. "But we cannot allow China to use its economic power to buy its way out of other problems, whether it's militarizing islands in the South China Sea or failing to put appropriate pressure on North Korea."

ls/rc (Reuters, AP)

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