Retired U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman is in North Korea for the second time this year but is refusing to say whether the release of an imprisoned Korean-American is on his agenda.
Before flying to Pyongyang Tuesday, Rodman told reporters at the Beijing airport he hopes to meet again with his "friend," North Korea's authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un, during his so-called basketball diplomacy tour.
"I want to try to keep the communication going, as far as like, I just want to go over there to meet my friend Kim, the marshall, and try to, you know, start a new basketball league, stuff like that."
The flamboyant Rodman held a rare face-to-face meeting with Kim in Pyongyang in February. During that trip, Rodman called the authoritarian leader his "friend for life."
Last week, Rodman told The Huffington Post
that he would "definitely" use his latest visit to ask Kim for the release of ailing Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae, who is serving 15 years of hard labor in the North.
But on Tuesday, Rodman refused to answer questions on Bae, saying he is "not going to talk about that." The 52-year-old Hall of Fame player said he has not been promised anything on Bae's release, but was simply going to the North as a "friendly gesture."
Rodman's visit comes after North Korea withdrew an invitation for a senior U.S. envoy because of U.S.-South Korean military drills that took place last month.
U.S. Special Envoy on North Korea Human Rights Issues Robert King was due to travel to Pyongyang Friday to request that Bae be freed on humanitarian grounds.
Bae's mother, Myunghee Bae, told VOA's Korean service that she is disappointed the trip was canceled and that everything seems unclear at this moment. She added that she hopes her son can be released through the resumption of dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea.
Leonid Petrov, a Korea analyst at the Australian National University, said Rodman's visit may be Bae's best hope for a quick release.
"There would at least be some logic in what North Korea is doing," he said. "They're trying to channel the diplomacy from high-level State Department [interaction] into people-to-people diplomacy."
Bae is a 44-year-old Christian missionary who was arrested after entering North Korea as a tour operator in November. He was convicted of trying to topple North Korea's government. His family says his health is quickly deteriorating.
North Korea has detained at least six Americans since 2009. All have been allowed to return home before serving their full sentences. Most were released following visits by prominent Americans, including former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.
Dennis Rodman arrives for a news conference in New York, Sept. 9, 2013.
Dennis Rodman gestures as he reacts to a question about American citizen Kenneth Bae who remains imprisoned in North Korea, at Beijing Capital International Airport, Sept. 7, 2013.
Dennis Rodman shows pictures he took with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to the media upon arrival in Beijing, in this combination picture of frames shot Sept. 7, 2013.
Former basketball star Dennis Rodman talks to media as he transits to Pyongyang from Beijing Capital International Airport, Sept. 3, 2013.
Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea Sept. 3, 2013 for a five-day visit, his second this year, but said he had no plans to negotiate the release of a jailed American missionary.
Dennis Rodman arrives at Pyongyang's airport, Sept. 3, 2013.
Dennis Rodman is seen after his arrival at Pyongyang airport in this photo taken by Kyodo, Sept. 3, 2013.
Dennis Rodman gestures as he arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport for transit to Pyongyang, Sept. 3, 2013.