Six months after being arrested on questionable charges, Korean-American Kenneth Bae was sentenced last week to 15 years of hard labor for “hostile acts” against North Korea. Former NBA player and accidental diplomat Dennis Rodman has responded to a Seattle Times op-ed calling on him to step in. Rodman tweeted, “I'm calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him 'Kim,' to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.” Bae was arrested in November in northeast North Korea after leading a group of businessmen there from China.
Although Kim Jong-Un has said that his regime does not plan to use Bae as a political bargaining chip, it is likely that the sentencing was timed to draw attention back to the despot whose political stunts earlier in the year, including publically threatening the U.S. with his nuclear arsenal, have recently taken a back seat in the U.S. media due to the Boston Marathon bombing and the investigation on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Earlier today, in a joint press conference with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Obama said that North Korea has “failed again” to use provocation to elicit concessions from the international community. The United States has called for Bae’s immediate release and has refused to send a high-level envoy to negotiate his release. In the past, special envoys such as Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have been able to secure the release or deportation of Americans arrested in North Korea.
Rodman’s visit to North Korea in March was criticized by the White House, but that has not stopped him from deciding to return to North Korea on August 1 to “just hang out and have some fun” with Kim.
The author of the Seattle Times op-ed, Thanh Tan, notes, “Perhaps now is the retired player’s chance to use his notoriety for something other than to over-inflate his ego.” Although it may seem unusual to solicit the help of an over-the-top character like Rodman, the former Chicago Bulls player is one of the few Westerners who has access to the North Korean leader, and if the two are as close as Rodman claims, the unusual route of basketball diplomacy may in fact have the best chances at securing the release of Kenneth Bae.