SEOUL (ABC) - Former NBA star Dennis Rodman is on way to Pyongyang today for a five-day visit to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but the trip he said is not to free jailed American missionary Kenneth Bae.
"I'm going to North Korea to meet my friend, Kim," Rodman told reporters while transiting at Beijing's airport earlier today. "It's a friendly gesture."
Bae, currently serving a 15 year sentence of hard labor in North Korea, was arrested for attempting to overthrow the communist government. Negotiations for his release was canceled at the last minute by North Korea just before Robert King, U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights issues, was to visit Pyongyang last week.
Pyongyang's excuse for the abrupt withdrawal was disapproval of the U.S. military participating in annual joint drills with South Korea.
Rodman, the first American to have met Kim in February, noted this trip is "another basketball diplomacy tour." His earlier visit had stunned the diplomatic world when very little was known about Kim Jong Un's personality.
The former basketball star was spotted hugging, drinking, and laughing with Kim who is known to have been a fan of Rodman from teenage years when he was educated in Switzerland. The trip had been organized by the cable channel Vice to promote an exhibition game and make a documentary.
Rodman has referred Kim as "an awesome kid" and gave lavish praises after spending time with him earlier this year.
Rodman said that Kim's father and grandfather Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, "were great leaders," according to the Associated Press. "He's proud, his country likes him — not like him, love him, love him," Rodman said of Kim Jong Un. "Guess what, I love him. The guy's really awesome."