Dennis Rodman says 'trying to open a door' in North Korea

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North Korea earlier announced it was expecting another visit from Rodman on Tuesday in what would be his first to the country since President Donald Trump took office.

Flamboyant former NBA star Dennis Rodman was headed for North Korea Tuesday, with the heavily-tattooed former player apparently set for another round of his controversial "basketball diplomacy".

Rodman is expected to arrive in Pyongyang Tuesday, two North Korean officials told CNN.

A senior U.S. official said the State Department was aware Rodman was planning to travel to North Korea, but stressed he is not there in any official capacity.

"Rodman's trip has sparked speculation that he may be traveling to free some or all of the four American citizens being held by North Korea, perhaps as a first and important step toward lessening tensions between Washington and Pyongyang", according to the Washington Post.

At the start of the exhibition game, Rodman sang "Happy Birthday" to Kim, who was seated in the arena, and bowed deeply as the North Korean players clapped.

One of Rodman's previous trips to North Korea was sponsored by an Irish betting company.

"He is going to (North Korea) to bridge the gap and bring peace and dialogue between both nations".

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"They were looking at ways to do that and this was one of the instruments they were looking at, and the foreign ministry thought it was advisable to formally extend an invitation", he told AFP. North Korea called the system a provocation that it says is aimed at bolstering US military hegemony in the region.

Any visit to North Korea by a high-profile American is a political minefield, and Rodman has been criticized for failing to use his influence on leaders who are otherwise isolated diplomatically from the rest of the world. "My objective is to go over there and try to see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea", the former Chicago Bulls forward told CNN.

Before Trump became president, Rodman appeared twice on his "Celebrity Apprentice" show and praised the billionaire real estate developer on Twitter during last year's election campaign. Rodman has defended his travels, saying in an interview with CNN in 2014 they would help "open the door" to North Korea.

The delegation was later revealed to have brought a selection of gifts into North Korea which may have contravened worldwide sanctions against the DPRK. Trump fired Rodman in both seasons. Rodman brought over a group of former National Basketball Association players and held an exhibition game as a birthday present for the North Korean dictator.

"We are aware of his visit".

Tensions between North Korea and the United States are at all-time high levels.

In comments carried by worldwide media and in his first public statement on the visit, he did, however, say he would try to "make something happen" regarding the four detained men, while stressing that he was visiting North Korea as a private citizen and not at the behest of the State Department.