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Friends forever: Rodman warms to North Korean dictator (+video)

Former NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman declared North Korean leader Kim Jong-un his 'friend for life' after watching the Harlem Globetrotters in the isolated country today.

By Staff writer / February 28, 2013

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, and former NBA star Dennis Rodman watch North Korean and U.S. players in an exhibition basketball game at an arena in Pyongyang, North Korea, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Rodman arrived in Pyongyang on Monday with three members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team to shoot an episode on North Korea for a new weekly HBO series.

Jason Mojica, VICE Media/AP

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Former Chicago Bulls basketball star and 1990s bad boy Dennis Rodman may not have run into K-Pop star Psy during his “basketball diplomacy” jaunt to North Korea this week, but he reportedly met secretive leader Kim Jong-un.

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Latin America Editor

Whitney Eulich is the Monitor's Latin America editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She also curates the Latin America Monitor Blog.

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Dennis Rodman, ex-NBA star, an unexpected US ambassador for better relations?

“You have a friend for life,” The Associated Press reports Mr. Rodman telling Mr. Kim today. The two men were watching the Harlem Globetrotters and North Korean basketball players face off on the court in front of a crowd of thousands, and later dined on sushi together, according to the news agency.

Rodman traveled to the isolated country along with three members of the Globetrotters and producers from VICE media to film an HBO series. The scene, described by VICE employees at the game, sounds like quite a sight:

Dressed in a blue Mao suit, Kim laughed and slapped his hands on the table before him during the game as he sat nearly knee to knee with Rodman. Rodman, the man who once turned up in a wedding dress to promote his autobiography, wore a dark suit and dark sunglasses, but still had on his nose rings and other piercings.

The high-profile visit comes at a precarious time for North Korea, which recently launched its third nuclear test, raising already sky-high tensions with neighboring South Korea and garnering condemnation from the international community.

Pyongyang has engaged in high-profile saber-rattling in recent weeks, including a warning this past weekend of "miserable destruction" if the United States and South Korea go ahead with a planned joint naval exercise next month,” The Christian Science Monitor notes.

“The North is trying to persuade the world – and in particular the United States – that it is a full-fledged nuclear power that can threaten others as much as it is threatened by them,” The Monitor reported in a separate story after the nuclear test.

That Pyongyang chose the day of President Obama's State of the Union address on which to conduct its test indicates how much the test was meant as a message for the US, regional analysts say.

The test was also directed at an internal audience. Leader Kim Jong-un, in power for just a year, is still establishing his credentials, observers say, and a successful test adds to his prestige and legitimacy, thus strengthening internal security.

The true aims of North Korea, however, remain officially unstated, and therefore open to speculation.

But Kim reportedly told Rodman that he hoped the former NBA player’s visit could help “break the ice” between the US and North Korea, VICE founder Shane Smith relayed to the AP.

“They bonded during the game,” Mr. Smith told the AP.

Rodman and the film crew reportedly returned the invitation, according to the Los Angeles Times, asking Kim to visit the US.

If Kim visits, and relations between the US and North Korea improve, will Rodman win the Nobel Peace Prize? Now that would be crazy.

The game ended in a tie of 110 all.

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