Thanh Tan says she was serious when she challenged former NBA star Dennis Rodman to get Kenneth Bae of Lynnwood, Wash. released from a 15-year hard labor sentence in North Korea.
Tan, a writer for the Seattle Times, made the request on Twitter, and Rodman responded. On Tuesday he asked Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader he calls a friend, “do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.” Tan said she was shocked, and was then even more surprised when Rodman quickly acknowledged he had made the plea at her request.
The State Department announced after Bae's sentence that he should be granted amnesty and released. The US has no diplomatic presence in North Korea; the State Department made the announcement through the media.
Bae was accused last year of plotting to overthrow the North Korean government. His friends describe him as a devout Christian who now lives in China.
Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt visited Pyongyang last year to try to get Bae released, but they weren’t allowed to see him.
“If those type of people can’t get access to Kenneth Bae and get the country to release him,” Tan told KUOW, “perhaps Kim Jong Un’s personal friend here -- friend for life, supposedly -- can do something about that.”
A media company sent Rodman to North Korea this year and filmed him dining and watching basketball with Kim Jong Un. Rodman said after the trip that Kim had “a friend for life.”
Unofficial diplomacy was the key that released two journalists who had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in North Korea in 2009. Former President Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang, had dinner with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, and left with the two journalists pardoned and released. The reporters had been working for a television production company that had been founded by Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore.
President Barack Obama said on Tuesday, “The days when North Korea could create a crisis and elicit concessions, those days are over."
Rodman has said he will make a second trip to North Korea in August.