PYONGYANG – Basketball bad boy Dennis Rodman may be the only American to have hugged, drank and laughed with North Korea’s bad boy Kim Jong Un, but the U.S. State Department said today it has no plans to debrief Rodman for any personal intel on the man who says he is targeting the U.S. with his nuclear arsenal.
Rodman left Pyongyang today after stunning the diplomatic world with his basketball diplomacy. After watching an exhibition game with a laughing Kim, dining and drinking with him, even hugging the regime strongman, Rodman had lavish praise for Kim and his father and grandfather who have turned North Korean into a family affair.
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.”
No other American as far as anyone can tell has met with Kim since he assumed command of North Korea following his father’s death in 2011. Since then, Kim has defied the world by pressing ahead with a nuclear arms and missile program which Kim says is aimed at the U.S.
Despite his access to Kim, however, Rodman will not be debriefed by American diplomats.
“We haven’t been in touch with this traveling party at any point along in the process. They haven’t been in touch with us. And so we don’t have any plans in that regard,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.
But he said as with any American who travels to North Korea and wants to talk to State, “We’ll take their call.”
“Here’s a man who has had dinner with one of the most threatening men in the whole world, who continues to sell weapons of mass destruction to all of our enemies. And they don’t even want to talk to him? That’s ridiculous,” said Steve Ganyard, a former deputy assistant secretary of state and a consultant to ABC News.
“There is nobody at the CIA who can tell you more personally about Kim Jong Un than Dennis Rodman and that in itself is scary,” Ganyard said.
Rodman’s visit also put a can of Coca-Cola on the spot, an indication that North Korea is able to evade at least some U.S. trade sanctions.
In photos released by the VICE Media crew that organized his visit, Rodman is seen sitting next to Kim at an exhibition basketball game, and in front of him is a can of Coke. (Kim appears to prefer tea).
What drew attention to the red and white can is that North Korea is one of two countries in the world where Coca-Cola does not and cannot do business because of U.S. sanctions which have been in place since the Korean War.
The only other country where Coke is banned is Cuba. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was on that list until last year. Yet when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Myanmar in 2011, an ABC News reporter traveling with the secretary noticed Coke on sale there, imported by third parties from Thailand.
That is most likely how Rodman’s contraband can of Coke arrived in North Korea.
Coke spokesman Kent Landers told ABC News today, “Coca-Cola does not currently do business in North Korea. Any products sold in the market have been purchased by third parties not authorized by The Coca-Cola Company and imported into the country from other markets where they are sold.”
Tourists who recently visited a new pizzeria in Pyongyang noticed the iconic American beverage was being served there. After videos of the cans turned up on YouTube, Coke was forced to put out a statement nearly identical to what it issued today.
When ABC News visited the Pyongyang pizzeria, clearly meant only for tourists and North Korean elite, during a visit to North Korea last year they were also served Coca Cola and report it tasted the same, though the cans were slightly taller and thinner than those found in the United States. An ABC News reporter was also able to procure a can of Coke elsewhere during a previous trip to North Korea.
An ABC News team that was in Cuba recently saw no sign of Coke, but the Cuban government produces its own version of cola.