Weekends with Alex Witt | March 03, 2013
>>> new today, dennis rodman is back from north korea with a message to the president from north korean leader kim jong -un. the former nba star visited the north korean leader. these are some pictures of them bonding at a basketball game a bit earlier this week. they ignited a wave of criticism. in his first television appearance since he returned, rodman says jong -un had a message for president obama . take a listen.
>> and the one thing he asked me to give obama something to say and do one thing. he want obama to do one thing. call him.
>> he wants a call from president obama ?
>> that's right. he told me that. he said, if you can, dennis, i don't want to do war. i don't want to do war. he said that to me.
>> so basketball ambassador or unwitting pawn? joining us now, columnist and author gordon chang. good to see you.
>> good to see you, alex.
>> dennis rodman of all people the first american to meet with jong -un since he took over for his father. what do you make of the whole thing?
>> i think it's sort of a employ. i think the united states should have a diplomatic compound in north korea and we should be talking to the north koreans . but we've got to remember that president obama sent two white house envoys, two separate trips, to north korea twice last year. the north koreans just blew them off. you know, maybe there's a change in attitude in pyongyang right now. it's pretty unlikely. got to also remember right now the united states is trying to round up votes in the security council for new sanctions. because north korea 's nuclear test last month. i think this is more sort of trying to defer that, undermine the american push for sanctions. i don't think it's a real outreach.
>> do you think the united states should rethink its approach to dealing with him? maybe he's a guy that appreciates doing sort of back channels or a lighter hand at doing this in terms of diplomacy. he is young. dennis rodman made that statement. he's only 28 years old.
>> yeah. well, i don't think it's wrong to talk to kim jong -un or the regime. the president tried to do that so many times last year. he even came up with what was so-called leaked a deal with the north koreans which kim jong -un repudiated two weeks afterwards. there's nothing wrong with talking to the north koreans . but at the same time you can't let up the pressure. because that's really what he's trying to do right now. i don't think that this is a lasting initiative. one thing about kim jong -un is that his position in pyongyang right now is pretty shaky. he's only been in power for 15 months. he needs to consolidate his position. it's really unlikely he could undertake a risky initiative at this time. so it sounds more like a ploy than anything else.
>> here's what dennis rodman had to say about jong -un before he left north korea . take a listen to this.
>> it was so honest. the one thing that, guess what, his grandfather and his father were great leaders. and he's such a proud man. he's proud. his country like him. not like him. love him. love him. guess what? i love him. the guy's awesome.
>> rodman has refused to apologize for those comments even though both of former north korean leaders he mentioned, they were notorious dictators. how counterproductive do you think his ringing endorsement will be to the people of north korea who already appear brainwashed and are living under a brutally repressive regime?
>> you can't make this stuff up, alex. the thing that's really important here is that the day that rodman made these comments, within hours, the committee for human rights in north korea released their report about a significant expansion of the prison camp system. these are the most horrific places on earth. you know, what rodman did was actually beneficial. because it put a spotlight on a report that probably would not have gotten attention. but now we're talking about it. it's important we do so. because although, you know, the kims might be really nice people and they may like basketball, the problem is that they run a really repressive regime as you point out.
>> yeah. does this meeting do anything, you think, in the general image for kim jong -un here?
>> i don't think so. because, you know, north korea is bizarre. dennis rodman is strange. you put them together and you get the festival of the weird. you know, i hope that relations with north korea get better. but, on the other hand, north korea has to stop doing a lot of things, not only repressing its people, but also launching three stage ballistic missiles and detonating atomic devices. that really is the reality of what's going on.
>> it's interesting dennis rodman tried to make the statement about how the president and the north koreans swb as well as their leader, they share this big love for basketball. listen to what he said about that.
>> obama loves basketball. let's start there. let's start there. if you see the quotes in the papers, he says that. he says that about sports. both of you guys love basketball so much.
>> can sports serve as a unifying ambassador of sorts ultimately?
>> well, you know, it did in the case of china with ping-pong diplomacy in the 1970s . but in 1970s china, beijing wanted better relations with the united states because they were involved in what they thought was an existential fight with the soviets. today i'm not sure the north koreans really want better relations with the united states . i hope that they do. i don't mind testing them. on the other hand, we have to have them stop what they're doing. they are destabilizing not only their region but the rest of the world . they are selling their three stage ballistic missiles and their nukes to iran. so this is not just a north korea problem. not just a north asia problem. this is a middle east , persian gulf , iran problem as well.
>> yeah. dennis rodman 's going to get involved, i agree with george stephanopoulos who said, you know what, you need to read this recent human rights report before you go back and try to do your own diplomacy.
>> gordon chang, thanks so much.