Retired U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman is in North Korea for his third visit in recent months, but says he will not raise political issues with the country's leader, Kim Jong Un.
Rodman's visit comes at another tense moment in Pyongyang, just days after the shocking execution of Kim's uncle, mentor and second in command, who was accused of trying to overthrow the state.
Speaking to Reuters at a Beijing hotel before departing for the North, Rodman said the execution of Jang Song Thaek had nothing to do with his visit, which he said was purely for "fun."
"I have no control over that. I mean, these things have been going on for years and years," he said. "I mean, whoever is going to be a political insider over there, from America or somewhere else in the world, [who] wants to come over there and try to get a hold of it, great. But I'm just over there to do a basketball game and have some fun."
The five-time National Basketball Association champion is expected to help train North Korea's national basketball team during his trip, which is sponsored by the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power.
During past visits, the eccentric Rodman has held extended personal meetings with Mr. Kim, who he has called a "friend for life" and a "good guy." He is thought to be the highest-profile American to have met the North Korean leader.
The 52-year-old said Thursday he is open to talking about political issues, appearing to refer to imprisoned Korean-American Kenneth Bae, but only if Kim brings it up.
"If it doesn't happen, I just can't bring it up, because I don't want him to think that I'm over here trying to be an ambassador and trying to use him as being his friend, and then all of a sudden I'm starting talking about politics. It's just not going to be that way," he said.
The U.S. State Department this week again distanced itself from Rodman's activities in North Korea, saying he does not represent the U.S. government in any way.
Rodman has said he hopes his trips can help convince President Barack Obama to engage with North Korean leaders, who last year spent weeks threatening a nuclear attack against American targets.
The basketball star has been criticized by many for refusing to bring up human rights abuses with the North Korean government, which is considered by many to be the most oppressive in the world.
Dennis Rodman speaks to the media after returning from his trip to North Korea at Beijing airport, China, Dec. 23, 2013.
Dennis Rodman poses for pictures with North Korean basketball players and government officials during a practice session in Pyongyang, Dec. 20, 2013.
Dennis Rodman plays one-on-one with a North Korean player during a basketball practice session in Pyongyang, Dec. 20, 2013.
Dennis Rodman disembarks from a flight from Beijing as he and his entourage arrive at the international airport in Pyongyang, Dec. 19, 2013.
Dennis Rodman walks with Vice Minister of North Korea's Sports Ministry, Son Kwang Ho, as Rodman arrives at the international airport in Pyongyang, Dec. 19, 2013.
Dennis Rodman arrives at the capital airport in Beijing, on his way to North Korea, Dec. 19, 2013.